Originally my high-minded plan was to try a Top 5 Adult Volcano Fiction list. However I hopelessly stalled with Malcolm Lowry’s ‘Under the Volcano’; couldn’t bring myself to read ‘The Volcano Lovers’; and need more daylight around to cope with gritty Icelandic bodies-in-the -ash crimefiction. So, for just now, I’ve come up with a top 5 list of kids’ books. Lots of reading fun!
These are in my order of preference but they are all brilliant. To keep it interesting only my Top 5 are listed with a brief synopsis and justification. See if you agree!
(1) The Firework Maker’s Daughter: Phillip Pullman (Random House, first published 1995)
Lila wants to become a firework-maker but her father thinks this is unsuitable for a girl. She defies him by journeying alone to Mt Merapi to get Royal Sulfur from Razvani the Fire-Fiend; a test all firework-makers must undergo. Will she be successful and persuade her dad he is being a bit of a numpty for thinking that girls can’t do anything they want to?
This is one of my choices that is much more about the feeling and sense of being around a volcano rather than an attempt to convey an actual eruption. I think I loved it all the more for that. Aimed at kids in the 7-10 age group Pullman’s descriptions fizz and crackle with all the delight that comes from roaming free on perilous mountains. However, the real draw of this book for me was the description of the firework making. All the sense of the fun of guddling around in a lab being creative; and the wonder of watching Strombolian-type activity at the end of it. Yippee!
(2) Escape from Pompeii: Christina Balit (Frances Lincoln Childrens Books, 2005). The first of two books about the 79 A.D. eruption of Vesuvius. This is a picture book for younger children and focusses on Tranio and his friend Livia and their escape into the Bay of Naples.
In places it’s a little studious in trying to convey life as it was then but the illustrations are just beautiful (see above); so nice you can forgive the odd lava flow leaking out underneath the surges. Doesn’t shy away from the sad death toll either; but is neither morbid or mawkish about it.
(3) Magic dogs of the volcanoes: Manlio Argueta and illustrated by Elly Simmons. Published by the Childrens Book Press in the States. I came across, and read this, in my daughter’s infant school. It has both the Spanish and English text side-by-side.
Both the pictures and text convey a nice sense of a volcano legend. The magic dogs (cadejos) that protect El Salvadorean villages are saved from some naughty lead soldiers by the volcanoes that loom over everyone. I particularly liked one volcano’s lovely orographic hat and there are some melting bottoms too; which should go down well with pretty much any 3-6 year old I’ve ever met!
(4) The Secrets of Vesuvius: Caroline Lawrence (Orion Children’s Books, 2001) The second erupting Vesuvius and the first mystery book. This is part of ‘The Roman Mysteries‘ series for 7-11 year olds but Vesuvius erupts slap bang in the middle of the riddle-solving. The main protagonist here is Flavia Gemina a feisty Roman girl and her slightly unlikely gang of international (Greek, Jewish, African )mates.
Generally these imagined histories seem much stronger on the intersecting historical facts and a bit weaker on eruptive details. Perhaps I’d think differently if I was a historian; nonetheless this has some amazing descriptions of the failing light and choking ash at the peak during the eruption and lots of threatening doom from the precursory earthquakes. I quite liked the cameos from Pliny the Elder wandering about being erudite and generally looking like a heart attack waiting to happen; which it does.
(5) Kidnap in the Caribbean: Lauren St. John (Orion Books, 2012). This time, a ‘Laura Marlin‘ mystery based around the current eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano. My 10 yr old daughter LOVED the first mystery in the series; this one not quite so much BUT it is set on Montserrat and there are some tip top touches. She and I still liked it a lot! The Caribbean tones give Laura’s adventures a real junior James Bond feel as she races to rescue her uncle from an evil rare-breed-kidnapping organisation in their hideout in the Belham Valley. A gently mad Montserrat Volcano Observatory director (who is living in a caravan in the Exclusion Zone for slightly blurry reasons) adds colour and there is a dramatic pyroclastic flow engulfed climax. Yay! Can almost forgive Laura for spending the preceding few hours tip-toeing around some giant Hawaiian-style lava tunnels.
Currently in our house we are studiously trying to Boycott Amazon – none of my links go there. If you like the sound of the books, other booksellers are available!
I know I’ve missed out some classics but I noticed that serendipitously ALL of my choices have female lead protaganists in brilliant mixed teams and the picture books also feature boys and girls too! How cool is that? Its really pleasing to have read a trio of books with the story led by feisty baddywhacking, mountain climbing girls who don’t even think twice about just getting out there. It’s a fitting tribute to the battery- carrying mountain climbing ‘girls’ that abound in volcanology today. We take that ‘Science its a Girl thing’ video concept and bury it in the nearest available pyroclastic flow deposit.