Wild Song is a beautiful and enchanting book for children and adults alike. Janis Mackay spent a month on a Finnish Island on a writing residency, funded by Creative Scotland, to write this book, which sounds like a magical experience, and truly shows in the writing. The story follows Niilo, a 13 year old Finnish boy, who on top of having a terrible phobia of the sea, has horrible nightmares about drowning which drive him to spend his nights lying on the floor to avoid sleep, and disruptive anger issues which his parents can no longer deal with. Niilo is sent from Helsinki to live on a tiny island at the Wild School, where along with other boys who don't fit well with traditional education he is taught about nature, growing food, foraging, wood work and circus skills (among other things). Niilo's determination to 'free' drives him and he soon opens up to his case worker Hannu, who helps him search for his lost 'wild song'.
Five things I loved about Wild Song:
5-The Finnish and Saami folklore was beautifully integrated into the story through Hannu. Seeing Niilo slowly embrace these stories and look for meaning and comfort in them was a great way to show his journey to finding those lost memories.
4-Niilo's anger issues were compassionately portrayed. With Niilo as narrator the reader was able to see and understand the thinking behind his actions, as Niilo himself attempted to understand them. Never were his feeling patronised or belittled, as his own version of events were what guided the reader.
3-Niilo's astute awareness of Hannu's methods of pep-talking and encouragement were spot on. Again Mackay never patronises Niilo, or the reader. He is aware when Hannu is gently pushing an idea on him, or telling him a story with a particular lesson in mind. He is even aware when that story is something he doesn't want to hear, and so stops listening.
2-The Tove Jansson book in the wooden hut and Niilo wondering is maybe this island had been Tove's island. I love Tove Jansson's work so this reference gave me warm fuzzies when reading.
1-The seal! What a magical moment when the seal guides Niilo to shore, and helps him to fish, and keeps and eye on him. And the two seals popping up to greet Niilo and his mum, singing their wild song, was a perfect ending to a beautiful, thoughtful book.
I'm strongly considering finding a way that I can spend a month on a Finnish island. Also my interest in selkies has been reawakened, and having a little look through Janis Mackay's previous work it looks like I have quite a few selkie-based children's books to indulge in.
I'm currently doing the #MayBookChallenge on instagram- come follow me @ruthlily!