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Norah’s Ark by Victoria Williamson
Author Victoria Williamson weaves a rich tapestry of contemporary life in beautiful novel, skilfully showing us what life is like for 11-yr-old Norah in the very opening paragraphs. Norah lives in temporary accommodation and is always afraid she and her dad will be kicked out because because they can’t pay the rent. She worries he spends too much money in the bookies and has to watch him on his own food so that she has enough to eat, but even with the help of food banks, it is never enough.
But Norah has not always lived this way. While she cannot recall ever having a mother, she can remember a time when she had a home to call her own. She dreams of that old life, mostly because she would be able to have a pet if they still lived there. And as much as Norah loves her pet spider, Boris, she longs for a dog.
This is something she and 11-yr-old Adam have in common – initially, it seems to be the only thing they have in common. Adam isn’t poor. He doesn’t use food banks. He has a big home and garden on the posh side of town. But as we get to know Adam, we realise life in his gilded cage is not as great as it seems. Adam is recovering from Leukaemia and, while he is now in good health, his over-protective mother is unwilling to take any risks. Adam is not allowed to leave the house and garden. He is not allowed out in the rain. He is not allowed to go back to school. He is not allowed to have a pet dog.
It is this shared love of animals, and their desire to protect a nest of motherless birds, that sows the seed of an otherwise unlikely friendship between these two children of such different backgrounds. But they discover they both have much to learn from each other.
What I love most about this novel is that, despite the hardships both children have faced – poverty and illness – they are still very much children regardless of the backdrop of their lives. They want to rescue animals. They want to be allowed to have pets. They worry about fitting in, about schooll. And they are both balancing their own hopes and dreams with wanting to please their parents, and still wanting to see them as infallible humans
Norah’s Ark is one of those books that prove difficult issues can and should be tackled in children’s literature. It even touches upon gambling addiction, bullying, and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. I would love to see the rich themes of the narrative being explored and discussed in classrooms far and wide.
Bruna is a fledgling children's author who can be found in cafés dotted around the Scottish Borders, pen in one hand, pastry fork in the other. When not writing, reading or reviewing, this Espresso-sized Scotalian spends her time trying to get her cats to love her. Her debut picture book I'M NOT CUTE, I'M DANGEROUS was published by Maverick in 2021.