Long before we all started doing the endless scroll through Netflix, we’d rifle through the TV guide for the juiciest picks. That was back in the olden days, you know, the 80s, when we all had those faux wooden tellies on legs. Anyway, once we’d found the perfect film (The Goonies, Labyrinth, Willow), Mum would set up a floor picnic and my two sisters, my bro and I would huddle in front of the telly. Movie night would begin. And the most epic films of all… were the Indiana Jones ones. Booby-trapped ancient ruins, big fat snakes and a cracking bullwhip – the non-stop action made our hearts race. But today, once you’ve seen the films over and over again, and IMDB has pulled apart plotline plausibility, it’s hard to get that hold-your-breath feeling back. But readers… I GOT THAT HOLD YOUR BREATH FEELING BACK.
The spirit of the Indiana Jones-esque adventure is back, some three decades later, in the timeless, middle-grade novel ‘The Explorer’ by Katherine Rundell. It’s wildly exciting. And it begins with a crash landing.
The pilot of a six-seater plane suffers a heart attack, mid flight to Manaus, Brazil. As he slumps on the dashboard, the only passengers – four children – watch in horror as the tangled heart of the Amazon rises up and swallows them. As they later emerge from the wreckage, the children find themselves alone, without food or water, miles from civilisation. The adventure begins.
Suddenly, I’m 10 again and on the adventure too; swimming with piranhas, outrunning forest fires, discovering secret maps, riding the river rapids and pushing back vines to reveal ancient ruins… but maybe not eating the tarantulas. It seems my arachnophobia even extends into fiction.
I felt like I was in The Amazon – I could see in vivid detail the verdant beauty all around me. I could all but smell the humidity. It’s writing that truly transports you. A cheeky little Google search revealed that as part of her research, Rundell went by boat from Manaus down a tributary of The Amazon. From there, she hiked with a guide, deep into the jungle, where she learned a few survival skills – from eating moth grubs and finding pineapples to catching tarantulas. Heart be still! The writing feels real, because in many cases, the experiences are real.
Among the ruins, the children meet The Explorer. He’s mysterious, eccentric and more than a little mean. Will he help them survive?
The Explorer is a classic adventure story for all ages. It’s pacey, with cracking dialogue and non-stop hold your breath action. As for those tarantulas… Rundell ate ‘em up. You can hear her read that skin crawling excerpt from the book and watch it here.
[Reviewer’s own copy – we love it that much!]