This Week’s Word Is “Roar.”
For this week’s Word Wednesday post I’m once again drawing from the pool of books I’ve shared with my son during lockdown. Following on from the excellent High Rise Mystery, we decided to read Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan. This was “book of the month” in my local bookstore several months ago and I picked it up because, well, dragons!
What we found inside the gorgeously illustrated front cover (by Ben Mantle, who also adds several more lovely drawings to the interior of the book) was a tale of monsters, magic, and derring-do. Like most of the best children’s stories, Land of Roar is about the power of the imagination.
What Is Land of Roar?
Land of Roar opens in a British suburban house, with twins Arthur and Rose playing in a back garden. They’re staying with their grandfather (immediately getting rid of pesky parents, before they can spoil things), who decides it’s time to clear out the attic room so that the twins can have a grown-up “den” when they come to visit.
Arthur and Rose are on the cusp of going to Secondary school (aged 11–16, here in the UK), about to cross the threshold from their primary education into “big school.” At this point, childish games are put away and puberty beckons. It’s a peculiar time, one filled with both excitement and trepidation. My son makes exactly this transition this year, albeit in very peculiar circumstances. It’s going to be a tough transition for him and books like The Land of Roar help, I think.
Of the twins, Rose is ready. She’s growing up faster than her brother, already seeing him as childish. Arthur is hurt that his sister no longer wants to play the games of their childhood. When Arthur thinks he sees a wizard peering out of the attic window, Rose ridicules him for his childish fantasy. The scene and conflict are set…
We all, of course, know that Arthur DID see a wizard in the attic and it’s only a matter of time before exciting things happen. It turns out that as children, during visits to their grandad’s house, Arthur and Rose played in their invented land of Roar. Whilst Rose wants to give it all up, Arthur wants one more game for old time’s sake. Rose refuses. Hurt, Arthur tries to explain the game to his grandad. Keen to cheer Arthur up, grandad enters the camp-bed portal into Roar and… disappears.
Arthur sets off after him whilst Rose refuses to believe that Roar can be real and stays behind.
Enter the Land of Roar.
When Arthur finally enters Roar, He quickly teams up with his old (imaginary) friend Win (Short for Wininja – Wizard Ninja, what’s not to like?) and they try to find out what has happened to grandad. It turns out the land of Roar is dying, collapsing in on itself. Arthur’s childhood bogeyman, “Crowky,” (half crow, half scarecrow, all scary) has kidnapped grandad. Arthur vows to rescue him before he ends up one of Crowky’s minions: a sinister stuffed scarecrow.
There follows an exciting island adventure filled with magic, peril, and dragons. There’s jagged rocks, impenetrable castles, and trap-laden forests to navigate. Will Arthur reach his grandad in time? Why did Crowky lure him there? And more importantly, will Rose return to the fantastic realm of her childhood?
Why Read The Land of Roar?
First up, it’s worth picking up a copy of Land of Roar just for the illustrations, particularly the UK inside cover pictures. I very much enjoyed Ben Mantle’s illustrations.
The story in Land of Roar has all elements that make a classic children’s story. There is an interesting fantasy kingdom, a top-quality scary villain (really, Crowky is terrifying), and lots of scrapes and adventures on the way to the final confrontation. It’s a novel with a lovely central theme and message too.
Much like the Narnia books, the story is about the power of imagination and the unfettered nature of a child’s mind. Unlike C.S. Lewis, however, Jenny McLachlan suggests that we can hold onto our sense of wonder and the creative power of our imagination long after we turn 11.
The story is great at examining sibling relationships and their trials and tribulations. Rose, Arthur, and the antagonism between them is well portrayed. The book also stresses the importance of being yourself, and to a lesser extent, will give comfort to those facing their fears. It is no coincidence that Crowky is the manifestation of everything Arthur is afraid of, and that the book is set in the summer before he will begin his journey at a new, much larger, school.
My own son is dreading his own transition and whilst his imaginary worlds are mostly filled with a peculiar mix of Pokémon and Space Marines, I’d like to think that the book was comforting to him. I hope it will reassure him that he doesn’t have to give up the things that make him happy in order to be able to embark on the next step of his educational career. He doesn’t have to be tough and “grown up,” just yet. I also hope that if the upcoming change is his Crowky, he can draw comfort from knowing that friends and family are there to support him.
Land of Roar is the sort of book that makes children think that anything is possible. It teaches them to dream big and to love play. It’s a wonderful tale written in the grand tradition of children’s adventure stories. A sequel, Return to Roar, is on its way. I can’t wait to see what Arthur and Rose get up to next.
If you enjoyed this review you can check out more of my Word Wednesday posts, here.