The Children of Castle Rock

The Children of Castle Rock

The Children of Castle Rock
Natasha Farrant

Faber & Faber

ISBN 9780571323562

When Alice Mistlethwaite is shipped off to boarding school in Scotland it's nothing like she imagines. Run by the mysterious Major, there are no punishments and the students are more likely to be taught about body painting or extreme survival than maths or English! Then Alice's dad goes missing and she must run away to find him. Can she persuade her new friends to help? So begins an epic quest across wild Scottish highlands and islands, where friendships will be made and broken, lies will be untangled and the children will face danger and excitement at every turn. Both hilarious and heartfelt, this is the classic adventure story brought bang up to date, and told in Natasha's inimitable voice.

Librarian's Book choice

If I think back to my own childhood reading, boarding school adventures seemed to be everywhere. It is a theme which stirs up dreams of a childhood free from parents and a licence to explore. From the moment I saw the cover of Children of Castle Rock, I knew that this would continue the theme.

We follow Alice as she is sent to boarding school in the Scottish Highlands. Here she finds herself getting into all kinds of scrapes. Then, days before an orienteering competition, she receives a mysterious message from her absent father. Determined to meet him, Alice and her team shun the competition to brave the wild weather and travel to a remote island. The problem is that they aren't the only ones heading there!

One thing I will say is that Children of Castle Rock reads like a piece of classic children's literature. Not just because of the content, but also because of the writing style. Much of the composition reminds me of Blyton or CS Lewis. There are sentences which keep on building, adding layer upon layer for the reader. The narrative conjures up explicit images which strengthen your connection with the settings.

Alongside this, Natasha Farrant often uses a more familiar narrative tone to drop hints about how the story will progress. This put me at ease with the book. I felt a personal connection with Farrant and I felt part of the world she created; I felt included, I felt special.

In short, this is a beautifully crafted book. It has all the hallmarks of a classic children's novel, yet still manages to bring the ideas up-to-date. As an adult, it provides a little bit of nostalgia. For children, it will open their eyes to a world of adventures waiting to happen.

320 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Matt Davies, teacher.


The Children of Castle Rock5/5

The Children of Castle Rock

Natasha Farrant


The Children of Castle Rock is a daring new adventure story in the tradition of all good boarding school novels. Lovers of Harry Potter, Malory Towers and The Worst Witch will immediately find something in this new story to identify with. The boarding school setting allows for the all-important parentlessness that so often sets up the protagonists of children's books to have rip-roaring escapades that their parents would never allow. Farrant brings Famous Five-style adventure right up to date with mobile phones and various other trappings of modern life. Except in her latest book it is some mysterious communication from Alice's largely-absent dad that prompts her and her friends to abscond from school to embark on a crazy adventure across remote areas of Scotland. The fact that the Stormy Loch's behaviour management ethos doesn't follow the normal strictness found in other fictional schools makes matters worse - or better - depending on which way you look at it.

The main theme of this book really is children's relationships with adults: Alice's mum has died, her dad is pretty useless, and she's actually closest to her Auntie, the aptly named Patience. Fergus's parents have split up and are not amicable and Jesse lives in the shadow of his older brothers and is desperate initially to win his parents' favour with his violin playing. The teachers at the school are a rag tag bunch headed up by the Major who is quirky, to say the least - a rather progressive ex-army man who challenges all stereotypes of head teachers in children's fiction. The book crescendos with some unexpected outcomes where children's relationships to adults are concerned - I won't spoil it, but this isn't your typical children's book ending.

The book has a very strong narrator presence making it unlike any other children's book I've read. Farrant often hints at things are to come, referencing future parts of the story that are relevant to events that are happening at the point of narration. The narration is where the playfulness of this story comes leaving the characters largely to get on with the serious business of embarking on their quest to subvert the orienteering challenge in order to transport a secret package to a rendezvous with Barney, Alice's shady father. Along the way the children experience the joys of wild swimming, fishing and camping, torrential rain and storms, breaking and entering, food poisoning and being chased by proper baddies, not to mention the highs and lows of pre-teen friendship

The book is aimed fairly and squarely at children of a similar age to the children in the book - upper key stage two and lower key stage three children will love this story. There are some starred out expletives which give it a little edge, and leave little to the imagination - something to consider when using the book in school or recommending it to children. With a diverse set of characters, themes that are relevant to the lives of many children and a main character who loves writing, there is also definite scope for this being used in the classroom as a stimulus for discussion. A recommended read.

320 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Aidan Severs, teacher.

Reviewed by: Aidan Severs