School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—Mina fills her new journal with thoughts, dreams, and stories. She has left St. Bede's Middle School to be homeschooled by her mum. The reasons for this are slowly revealed. Mina writes about her home life (happy with her mum, but they both miss her late father). About her time at St. Bede's (unhappy since some of her teachers did not appreciate her extreme sense of whimsy). About a new family moving in up the street (with a young boy who turns out to be Michael from Skellig). About nature (particularly the blackbirds nesting in her tree). And about the time she attended an alternative school (that did not last long). The layout is great fun. Since this is a journal, the main font looks like handwriting. When Mina writes a poem or focuses on a particular word, the "handwriting" gets thicker and darker, as though written with a felt-tip marker. When Mina wants to distance herself from the action, she drops into the third person and writes a story in a more formal typeface. Boxes scattered throughout the text include "Extraordinary Activity" suggestions: writing a particular kind of poem, watching the stars, or flying while you dream. Almond portrays Mina as a girl with a great love of words and learning, and he plays joyfully with language. This might make for tricky going for some readers, but it is truly a wonderful book.—Geri Diorio, Ridgefield Library, CT
Wildly imaginative, fantastical…Mina is a perceptive, fiercely curious, and defiant but sensitive girl who will surely prove a heroine for many.
The New York Times Book Review
This intimate prequel to Skellig is built around Mina McKee, the curious and brilliant home-schooled child who eventually befriends that book’s protagonist, Michael. Mina, a budding writer, reveals her love of words in her journal; most of the book unfolds in a handwritten-looking font, with Mina’s more emphatic entries exploding onto the pages in massive display type. Her lyrical, nonlinear prose records her reflections on her past, existential musings (“The human body is 65 percent water. Two-thirds of me is constantly disappearing, and constantly being replaced. So most of me is not me at all!”), and self-directed writing exercises (“I’ll try to make my words break out of the cages of sadness, and make them sing for joy”). Almond gives readers a vivid picture of the joyfully free-form workings of Mina’s mind and her mixed emotions about being an isolated child. Her gradual emergence from the protective shell of home is beautifully portrayed as she gingerly ventures out into the world. Not as dark, but just as passionate as Almond’s previous works, this novel will inspire children to let their imaginations soar. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, August 15, 2011:
"Almond gives readers a vivid picture of the joyfully free-form workings of Mina’s mind and her mixed emotions about being an isolated child. Her gradual emergence from the protective shell of home is beautifully portrayed as she gingerly ventures out into the world. Not as dark, but just as passionate as Almond’s previous works, this novel will inspire children to let their imaginations soar."
Starred Review, Booklist, September 15, 2011:
Almond is rather brave to have written a prequel to Skellig (1998), a book that was the essence of originality. So many things could have gone wrong. But he is too shrewd—and fine—a writer to let that happen. This is the story of Mina, the girl next door who, in Skellig, helped Michael cope with the man he found in his garage eating dead flies and growing wings. Who was Mina before Michael arrived? Form as well as language bring Mina alive. Her journal introduces us to this authoritative, imaginative, irascible child, and her entries appear in her childlike penmanship; the print is big and bold when she finds a word she loves (“METEMPSYCHOSIS!”), and she uses concrete poetry as she plays with language and thoughts. And what thoughts! Mina is homeschooled, because, well, because she’s Mina, and she needs expanses of time to think about myths and mathematics. She dreams of her dead father and wonders, wonders, wonders about birds. It is the birds that will lead readers into Skellig—that, and glimpses of Michael and his family moving next door. This book stands very much alone, but the sense of wonder that pervades the smallest details of everyday life remains familiar.
— Ilene Cooper
The New York Times Book Review, October 16, 2011:
“Mina is a perceptive, fiercely curious, and defiant but sensitive girl who will surely prove a heroine for many.”
"Almond's singular giftsthe hypnotic quality of the prose, the ethereal connection between the mundane and the magical, and the character study of a fiercely intelligent, fiercely independent young girltriumph over it all."The Horn Book Magazine
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Black-haired Mina McKee has earned her own novel, and it is well-deserved. In this prequel to Skellig, we get Michael's friend Mina's backstory. Mina is a misfit in her traditional school since she is both a non-conformist and showily intelligent. Mina outside-the-box thinking means that she also learns outside the school. From the top of her backyard tree, she contemplates new life in a bird's nest, the expansiveness of the sky, and how she can bring her dead father back to life. A startlingly original response to a standardized school test gets Mina booted out of school and into home schooling where, she comes under the tutelage of an elegant and an eloquent writer. The book changes color and typeface as Mina goes back and forth between her story and the journal that she keeps for her introspective observations of life. As the story progresses, Mina evolves and recognizes that her singular life may be fine for now, but not for always, and she challenges herself to be as brave as the creatures she observes daily, and acknowledges her mother's courage to continue moving forward from the death of Mina's father. Finally, Mina reaches out for a friend, and the friend is her new neighbor, Michael. Mina's lovely, slow ascension into life is a pleasure to read and is beautifully and movingly worth the trip. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
VOYA - Mary Ann Darby
"There's many ways to [discover how to be yourself], Mina. A different way for each and every one of us. And you know what? It goes on all your life." In a lyrical, whimsical novel, David Almond graces readers with the story of young Mina (from Skellig [Yearling, 2000]) in Mina's own inimitable words. Mina writes her journey of self-discovery through narration, shape poems, free verse, and stories. The reasons behind her being home schooled are slowly unfurled as Mina contemplates life and a bird's nest from her favorite tree. Mina's world includes her love of William Blake's poetry, thoughts of her dead father, true affection for her mother, and dislike of the "cage" she perceives school to be. As Mina and her mother walk and talk one day, her mother observes, "So writing's like taking some words for a walk." That being the case, the whole story of Mina is a thought-provoking and wonderful walk of words that leads up to her introducing herself to Michael. Mina's characterization soars like her beloved birds and shows her to be a thoughtful and observant young woman. She sets "Extraordinary Activities" for herself throughout her story, and indeed, the whole book is an extraordinary reading experience. Middle school and junior high fans of Skellig will welcome Mina and her story, and even those who have not read that tale may want to meet Mina. The cover of the book will draw readers in, as well as the variety of type faces set to mimic Mina's own writing. Teachers may enjoy using some of Mina's delightful activities as writing prompts. Almond has given readers another lovely gift in Mina's story. Reviewer: Mary Ann Darby
A blank notebook sings its siren song to 9-year-old wordsmith Mina McKee in this mesmerizing prequel to British author Almond's award-winning Skellig (1998).
Mina's bold, uneven hand scrawls "My name is Mina and I love the night" in her first chapter "Moonlight, Wonder, Flies & Nonsense." Rather than chronicling her life in England with her widowed mother "to boring infinitum," she decides to let her words "murmur and scream and dance and sing." The result is the portrait of a writer as a young girl. Mina wonders and wanders, giddily examining the nature of the mind, language, sadness, swearing, schools-as-cages, daftness, owls, death, God, verbs, pee, pneumatization, spaghetti pomodoro and modern art—all through essays, footnotes, poems, stories, dreams, creative writing assignments and the occasional "extraordinary fact," such as that household dust is mostly made up of human skin. The pages can't quite contain Mina's mad joy for life's wonders, not even with occasional blasts of giant black type and rashes of exclamation points. Readers who feel like outsiders may find a kindred spirit in the homeschooled, mostly friendless Mina, who has been called everything from a witch to "Miss Bonkers," and fans of Skellig will enjoy discovering the moment when Michael moves in next door to Mina.
A fascinating, if breathless ramble through the cosmos. (Fiction. 10-14)