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The Storybarn Selects… From The Reader Bookshelf

Written by Lily Kehoe, 1st December 2023

We're continuing to delve into the Children and Young People's Reader Bookshelf with a review of Anthony McGowan's series Brock (2013), Pike (2015), Rook (2017) and Lark (2019) from Children and Young People Coordinator, Andie.

This coming of age series deals with emotions, relationships, poverty, life’s difficulties and even danger, beautifully. The books follow a family from Northern England with very little money as the children navigate their parent’s broken relationship. The characters are each wonderfully represented, and there is hope running through each book. The stories are about the love the family shares, finding their feet, and how the boys deal with strong feelings. Ultimately, the bond between brothers is what is the most compelling of all. 

Each book is a story in its own right, and they are neatly and simply tied together with a line in each referencing the previous book. A love of nature, and also the roughness of nature, is a constant theme running through the books. They are beautifully designed with each book having its own illustration across the pages. Written with dyslexic readers in mind the easy to read font is printed on non-glare, off white paper - which, as someone with dyslexia and Irlen Syndrome, made these a delight for me to read. The reading age is 9+, with an interest age of about 13+, however, I’m 36 and I was gripped. The books are readable, but they are far from simple - the emotions and issues the brothers face are complex, messy, raw and real. 


In Brock we meet the brothers, and learn how protective and caring Nicky is of his brother Kenny, as well as how grown up he has to be. They are a duo, the best of friends, and they love an adventure together. Their dad is in trouble with the police, and their mum has left, leaving the boys at risk of going into care. There’s an undertone of power, injustice and fear which is followed into a frankly gritty and hard to read scene with some violent bullies and an innocent family of badgers. There is heartbreak, but there is also a softness in the way this family comes together and face destruction. As the story continues there are glimmers of hope and possibility, and we see what the power of caring for others can do to a person's own healing.


Pike is based around fishing, and the brother’s trip to the pond had my heart racing. Nicky sees something which catches his attention which drives his actions for the rest of the book. There is then adventure within adventure to find a way to get to the gold sparkly thing. We meet another bully, who comes from a well-off family who can pay his way out of trouble from theft and assault (there’s some karma and some humour in there too though). The brothers, though, remain the kinds of kids who put care and human emotions above everything, even the possibility of money. Their sweet, loving relationship packs the book full of excitement and energy, with lovely little interactions that will make you smile. The book ends with excitement, hope, and anticipation. 


On the surface Rook is about rescuing a bird, but really it’s about navigating relationships during the awkward, confusing teen years. The boys are slightly older, there’s a development in their relationship with their dad, we meet different bullies, and there’s a teen crush to contend with. There’s a messiness and realness to sibling love and sibling frustration, and a very honest and raw scene where Nicky can’t put into words how he is feeling - he’s reactive instead and he has to deal with the consequences. Of course, as ever, the book ends in a way that will make you smile. 


The brothers go on a carefree adventure which turns terrifying. Nicky continues to put Kenny’s feelings and safety first, until a moment when he can’t. Once again my heart was racing and I needed to know what happened, it was definitely a page turner. The beautiful, raw expressions of love that have been dotted throughout each book come into their own in Lark. The strength and depth of the love the brothers have for each other is powerful. The importance of caring for someone, or something, has been evident through the four books in the purpose and meaning it provides the family. On this adventure, the care Nicky and Kenny have for each knows no bounds. 


Across the books there is a continuous development in their family, and there’s a heart-warming interaction with Nicky and his dad that shows how far their relationship has come. Lark ends with a summary of the books, and a conclusion to the brother’s relationship that was so stunningly summed up that I’d put money on anyone who reads all four books needing to reach for the tissues! I hope you enjoy these books, they are well worth a read!

Brock (2013), Pike (2015), Rook (2017) and Lark (2019)are available to buy at The Reader Bookshop online.

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