Monday 22 August 2016

#ReviewMonday with KM Lockwood: Black Powder by Ally Sherrick

Friday 25 October 1605
The hangman stood hunched at the top of the wooden scaffold like a hungry black crow. A mob of screaming gulls wheeled above him, but his eyes stayed fixed on the noose as it swayed to and fro in the cold sea breeze.
Tom’s heart jolted. He didn’t want to watch a man die, but if he ran away now, everyone would know he was a Catholic for sure. He gripped the handle of the pail and steeled himself.
A murmur rippled through the crowd. He craned his neck but his view was blocked by a mass of sweaty bodies.
‘’Ere. Climb on this, lad.’ A pock-faced man next to him seized the pail and turned it upside down. Before Tom could stop him, he’d grabbed him round the middle and heaved him up on to it.

Published by Chicken House in August 2016
300 pages in paperback (without bonus materials) 
Also available as an e-book
Cover by Steve Wells Designs, illustrations by Alexis Snell
Summary  from Chicken House website
England, 1605.
12-year-old Tom must save his father from hanging. He falls in with a mysterious stranger – the Falcon – who promises to help in exchange for his service. But on the long journey to London, Tom discovers the Falcon's true mission – and a plot to blow up Parliament with barrels of black powder.
Tom faces a terrible decision: secure his father's release, or stop the assassination of the king ...
There are those in the children’s book world who say historical books are a hard sell. They would think again if they read this exciting adventure!

Have a good look at the cover and I think you’ll get the idea. (The paperback has gold lettering for the title by the way.) There’s red for excitement and danger, black for secrets and people kept in the dark, and sulphurous yellow for potions and cowardice. All those elements and more appear – together with courage, loyalty and friendship. There’s even a glint of humour with Jago (no spoilers!)

Author Ally Sherrick has really done her homework – and there are bonus pages for those who get the time-travelling bug – but all that research doesn’t slow the essential story down. Most of us know what happened in the Gunpowder Plot – but we don’t know how Tom’s story will end. So we just have to read on.

This story matters for at least three reasons: 
We too live in a time where someone’s religion can make other people frightened or cruel. 
It’s important to know the conflict behind Bonfire Night – and why it’s celebrated. 
Stories about difficult choices are never old-fashioned if you care about the characters as much as Tom Garnett. 
Black Powder not a difficult read in terms of literacy, but in keeping with the Jacobean period, some parts are violent and upsetting. The Hangman’s Noose on the back gives you a clue. It wouldn’t be truthful – nor anywhere near so exciting - if it were all quothing, ruffs and farthingales.

Black Powder would make an excellent project focus for KS2 History “Pupils should be taught about events beyond living memory that are significant nationally or globally [for example, … events commemorated through festivals or anniversaries]” because it’s so exciting. I could also see it as a TV mini-series, with episodes ending on cliff-hanger after cliff-hanger.
In short, you want plotting, danger and excitement all in the strange and fascinating 17th century? Then Black Powder is the book for you. Check out the author’s video here.

K. M. Lockwood lives by the sea in Sussex - see the pics on Instagram. She fills jars with sea-glass, writes on a very old desk and reads way past her bedtime. Her tiny bed-and-breakfast is stuffed full of books - and even the breakfasts are named after writers. You're always welcome to chat stories with @lockwoodwriter on Twitter.

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