Before I left for Senegal six weeks ago, I asked “Jeremy”, the Grade 5/6 teacher, if I could read to the kids when I came back. I love novels and all the characters, and changing my voice to suit each of them.
During silent reading time in class, I had roamed through the world of 11-year-old Martine Allen in Dolphin’s Song. What an adventure! I eventually figured out that this was the second book in a series about Martine and her friends. In Senegal, I downloaded the first book onto my phone and sped through it. The White Giraffe is aimed at kids but this loosey goosey adult was entranced by the action, the decisions the children made, and the ups and downs of relationship.
Yesterday Jeremy said yes to a young girl and an impossibly tall mammal. “Why not this afternoon, Bruce?” I glowed.
And so we began. I told the kids to put their lives between the pages. Are you like Martine, or Ben? Maybe not. What would you have done or said when X happened? Many of the young ones leaned forward, ready for an engrossing tale.
Lauren St. John knows how to grab her readers’ attention. How about this on page one?
The night Martine Allen turned eleven years old was the night her life changed absolutely, totally and completely and was never the same again.
Okay, Lauren. You’ve got me.
Martine was home in bed, dreaming:
It was a wild goose with a broken wing. But instead of helping it, some of the children began tormenting it. Martine, who could never bear to see any creature hurt, tried to stop them, but in the dream they turned on her instead. Next thing she knew she was on the ground crying and the injured bird was in her arms. Then something very peculiar happened. Her hands, holding the wild goose, heated up to the point where they were practically glowing and electricity crackled through her … Suddenly, the bird stirred. Martine opened her palms and it shook out its wings and flew into the violet sky.
Do dreams come true? Does this girl have the gift of healing? How can I possibly resist this story?
Our soon-to-be heroine was home in England. And the house was on fire! Lauren places us Canadians inside that choking bedroom:
Martine stood paralysed with terror. Far below her, the snow glinted mockingly in the darkness. Behind her, the room was filling with smoke and fumes and the fire was roaring like a factory furnace.
The snow was mocking Martine. Oh … what exquisite writing!
An ordinary writer might have said “Martine started crying.” But there’s no ordinary here:
Martine’s eyes streamed.
Even with all the panic, The White Giraffe isn’t emerging as a one-dimensional story about preteens. There’s already plenty to chew on about loving and being loved:
And Martine had smiled at him and thought how lovely her parents were even if they were sometimes a little weird.
Lauren has me. I hope she and I already have the kids. There are worlds to explore together.