Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Julia And The Shark, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart


This is a wonderful book to hold, heavy, and lush with shimmery silver framing its two-tone cover, a murmuration of birds flying from one endpaper over the page edges into the other endpaper. 

That production is entirely in keeping with the story. It is a heavy story, heavy with dread from the opening hint that Julia’s mother is going to die, heavy with the deep upset of a bipolar mother plunging from dangerously hyper enthusiasm and confidence to wanting to kill herself. This is a story that is honest about what it feels like to be the child living through that, but the story surprises us with the mother being saved by real life NHS help. And Mum’s mental instability isn’t by any means all that this story is about.

Like the surging murmuration of those birds, we swirl with beauty, observing the wonders of the sea and the night sky from a remote Shetland lighthouse. Those wonders come within a very relatable story of friendships and a bully and misunderstandings and learning to see the whole of people in order to understand and care for them. And there is daring and adventure for eleven year old Julia as she takes her mother’s tatty boat out into a storm to search for the ancient whale her more had been searching for and believing in. She finds it! And does that whale save her life when she’s drowning, before a human rescue brings her safe home? Tense and exciting and compelling!

Like that silver glimmer on the cover, the writing and illustration add beauty and shimmer to this story, lived through words and pictures.

After the story comes the bonus of Julia’s notebook jottings of fascinating sea and sky related facts, and some information about mental illness and how to find help if you are struggling.


Exactly because this is such a powerful story and book, I hope that adults read it first, and know the child reader, before offering it to those who will cope well with, and love, it. It’s a story to talk through with that child reader after it’s been read. For some children this will a life-changing book, opening their eyes and hearts to more than they’d known before of their world and of the people and other creatures who live in it. 

Pippa Goodhart:  


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