Year 7 - 'Skellig' by David Almond

About the book :

When a move to a new house coincides with his baby sister's illness, Michael's world seems suddenly lonely and uncertain. Then, one Sunday afternoon, he stumbles into the old, ramshackle garage of his new home, and finds something magical. A strange creature - part owl, part angel, a being who needs Michael's help if he is to survive. With his new friend Mina, Michael nourishes Skellig back to health, while his baby sister languishes in the hospital. But Skellig is far more than he at first appears, and as he helps Michael breathe life into his tiny sister, Michael's world changes forever . . .

David Almond
About David Almond :

David Almond is twice winner of the Whitbread Children's Book Award. His first novel, SKELLIG, won the Whitbread Children's Award and the Carnegie Medal. His second, KIT'S WILDERNESS, won the Smarties Award Silver Medal, was Highly Commended for the Carnegie Medal, and shortlisted for the Guardian Award.

THE FIRE-EATERS won the Whitbread, the Smarties Gold Award and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. David is widely regarded as one of the most exciting and innovative children's authors writing today, and his books are bestsellers all over the world. He lives with his family in Northumberland.

David Almond's website


Extract from Skellig – Chapter thirty-eight

Mid morning. Mina’s mother brought cups of tea for us. She sat beside us on the step. She talked about the fledglings, the flowers that were bursting into bloom, the air that every day became warmer, the sun that every day was a little higher and a little warmer. She talked about the way spring made the world burst into life after months of apparent death. She told us about the goddess
Persephone, who was forced to spend half a year in the darkness deep underground. Winter happened when she was trapped inside the earth. The days shrank, they became cold and short and dark. Living things hid themselves away. Spring came when she was released and made her slow way up into the world again. The world
became brighter and bolder in order to welcome her back. It began to be filled with warmth and light. The animals dared to have their young. Plants dared to send out buds and shoots. Life dared to come back.

   ‘An old myth, ‘ I said.

   ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘But maybe it’s a myth that’s nearly true. Look around you Michael. Fledglings and blooms and bright sunshine. Maybe what we see around us is the whole world welcoming Persephone home.’
  
We thought of for a while in silence. I imagined her struggling her way towards us. She squeezed through black tunnels. She took wrong turnings, banged her head against the rocks. Sometimes she gave up in despair and she just lay weeping in pitch darkness. But she struggled on. She waded through icy underground streams. She fought through bedrock and clay and iron ore and coal, through fossils of ancient creatures, the skeletons of dinosaurs, the buried remains of ancient cities. She burrowed past the tangled roots of great trees. She was torn and bleeding but she kept telling herself to move onward and upward. She told herself that soon she’d see the light of the sun again and feel the warmth of the world again.



 1. Annotate the text in the following manner:

  • Underline all the adjectives used in the first paragraph.
  • Using a different colour underline all the verbs in the last paragraph.
  • Now using a highlighter pen highlight all the simple sentences in the whole extract.

2. In pairs:

  • Discuss what you notice about the author’s use of adjectives and verbs in this piece of descriptive writing.
  • Why do you think the author uses so many simple sentences?
  • What effect does this have on the reader?

3. Read on to find out about the story of Persephone.

Persephone

Persephone & Hades
Demeter was the goddess of all growing things. She had a daughter called Persephone who was snatched by the god Hades one day and taken into the underworld.
Hades was king of the underworld – a cold and gloomy region inhabited by the souls of the dead. He wanted to marry Persephone.
Back on the earth, Demeter was very sad and the world mourned with her. It went cold and dark and no plants grew. At last, Zeus sent Hermes to bring Persephone back – but because Persephone had eaten in the underworld, she could not stay on Earth. She had to live with Hades for a few months each year. When that happened it was winter.

When that happened it was winter. ‘We thought of Persephone for a while in silence. I imagined her struggling her way towards us. She squeezed through black tunnels. She took wrong turnings, banged her head against the rocks. Sometimes she gave up in despair and she just lay weeping in the pitch darkness. But she struggled on. She waded through icy underground streams. She fought through bedrock and clay and iron ore and coal, through fossils of ancient cities. She burrowed past the tangled roots of trees. She was torn and bleeding but she kept telling herself to move onward and upward. She told herself that soon she’d see the light of the sun again and feel the warmth of the world again.’

David Almond also writes about Icarus in Skellig

Icarus

Daedelus was a very clever inventor who designed a maze for the Minotaur on Crete. However, he offended King Minos and so was imprisoned with his son Icarus. Daedelus planned an ingenious escape by making wings for them both out of feathers, wax and thread. The wings worked and they flew from the window of their prison.
Icarus was thrilled at flying like a bird and despite his father’s warnings not to get carried away, he flew higher and higher until he was so close to the sun that the wax melted and the wings broke apart. He fell into the sea and drowned.

‘Miss Clarts got tears in her eyes when she told us the story of Icarus, how his wings had melted when he flew too close to the sun, and how he had dropped like a stone past his father Daedelus into the sea.’

Why do you think David Almond chose to use these two stories from Ancient Greece in Skellig?

Another character that David Almond mentions is William Blake. William Blake unlike Persephone and Icarus was a real person who was born in London in the 17th C. He was a rather odd man who wrote and illustrated poems, believed that school was stifling for children.

‘How can a bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?’

‘He painted pictures and wrote poems. Much of the time he wore no clothes. He saw angels in his garden.’

He said we were surrounded by angels and spirits. We must just open our eyes a little wider, look a little harder.’

‘He said the soul was able to leap out of the body for a while and then leap back again. He said it could be caused by great fear or enormous pain. Sometimes it was because of too much joy. It was possible to be overwhelmed by the presence of so much beauty in the world.’

THE SCHOOL BOY

 I love to rise in a summer morn, 
When the birds sing on every tree; 
The distant huntsman winds his horn, 
And the skylark sings with me. 
O! what sweet company. 
  
But to go to school in a summer morn 
O! it drives all joy away; 
Under a cruel eye outworn, 
The little ones spend the day, 
In sighing and dismay. 
  
Ah! then at times I drooping sit, 
And spend many an anxious hour. 
Nor in my book can I take delight, 
Nor sit in learnings bower, 
Worn thro' with the dreary shower 
  
How can the bird that is born for joy, 
Sit in a cage and sing. 
How can a child when fears annoy, 
But droop his tender wing, 
And forget his youthful spring. 
  
O! father & mother, if buds are nip'd, 
And blossoms blown away, 
And if the tender plants are strip'd 
Of their joy in the springing day, 
By sorrow and cares dismay, 
  
How shall the summer arise in joy 
Or the summer fruits appear 
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy 
Or bless the mellowing year, 
When the blasts of winter appear. 


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