Skellig is the first mainstream Gothic novel for kids to deal unblinkingly with the genre's big time themes, including the fragility of life and redemptive power of love.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
British author Almond confidently narrates this recording of his first novel for young people. Michael and his family have just moved to a new home, which proves more dramatic than any of them had imagined. The house is a true fixer-upper, and Michael's new baby sister, born prematurely, is seriously ill. While his parents are consumed with worry about the baby, Michael is left alone with his own fears. But when he explores the house's crumbling garage, he discovers a frail creature with wings who becomes a most magical friend. It's hard to say whether the creature, which eventually introduces itself as Skellig, is a man, an angel or a ghost. As Michael and his new neighbor Mina spend time with Skellig, they learn about the transforming power of caring and love as they tend to Skellig's infirmities and cater to his fondness for Chinese takeout. Part mystery, part fantasy, Almond's story is made all the more memorable by his easygoing delivery and distinctive accent. Ages 8-up. (Apr.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
The dilapidated garage at his new home arouses Michael's curiosity but he is unprepared for what he finds inside. Almost indiscernible from the surroundings is Skellig, someone (or something) "filthy and pale and dried out" and having what appears to be wings. At the same time, Michael is coping with the fact that his premature baby sister is battling for her life. These two seemingly disparate events come together in an incredible way. His free-spirited friend Mina sums it up by stating, "We have to allow ourselves to see what there is to see, and we have to imagine." Almond explores the power of love and the presence of angels in a fascinating tale rich with stone and bird imageries. The reader is quickly drawn into this story because of the strong sense of place and well-developed characters. Mystery and metaphor combine for a story that is extraordinary.
To quote from KLIATT's Jan. 1999 review of the hardcover edition: Mina and Michael have seen Skellig together, a strange creature who lives in Michael's old garage, eating Chinese take-out and owl pellets. One magical time the three joined hands and danced in a circle, and the children grew wings from their shoulder blades and learned what it means to fly. In the midst of these wondrous things, Michael is trying to understand why his tiny baby sister is so fragile, and he worries that she will die. He and his father are trying to take care of each other while the mother is staying at the hospital with the baby. Michael's concerns for his little sister have taken him to some edge of awareness where he is able to see Skellig....Skellig is a strange book, certainly a memorable one. It isn't the usual fantasy, rather there is something about it that makes the reader feel if he or she just looked a bit harder and listened more carefully, many wondrous creatures would be there to find...Almond, who is British, has written for adults, but this is his first world for children. (Editor's note: Skellig is the winner of England's Carnegie Medal; it is a Horn Book Fanfare Book and an ALA Notable Children's Book.) KLIATT Codes: J*Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 1998, Dell/Yearling, 182p, 20cm, $4.99. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; November 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 6)
Gr 5-9-Two lonely children form a bond when they secretly take on the care of a crusty, otherworldly old man living in a ramshackled garage. A mystical story of love and friendship. (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-9-Michael was looking forward to moving into a new house. But now his baby sister's ill, his parents are frantic, and Dr. Death has come to call. What is the strange thing beneath the spiderwebs and dead flies in the crumbling garage? The only person Michael can confide in is his new friend Mina. Together they carry the creature out into the light, and Michael's world changes forever. By David Almond. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
NY Times Book Review
...[A] fine book; it reads like an adventure story, studded with ...details of family life and school...a story about worlds enlarging and the hope of scattering death.
Almond pens a powerful, atmospheric story: A pall of anxiety hangs over Michael (and his parents) as his prematurely born baby sister fights for her life. The routines of school provide some relief, when Michael can bear to go. His discovery, in a ramshackle outbuilding, of Skellig, a decrepit creature somewhere between an angel and an owl, provides both distraction and rejuvenation; he and strong-minded, homeschooled neighbor Mina nurse Skellig back to health with cod liver pills and selections from a Chinese take-out menu. While delineating characters with brilliant economy-Skellig's habit of laughing without smiling captures his dour personality perfectly-Almond adds resonance to the plot with small parallel subplots and enhances his sometimes transcendent prose (" `Your sister's got a heart of fire,' " comments a nurse after the baby survives a risky operation) with the poetry of and anecdotes about William Blake. The author creates a mysterious link between Skellig and the infant, then ends with proper symmetry, sending the former, restored, winging away as the latter comes home from the hospital. As in Berlie Doherty's Snake-Stone (1996) or many of Janet Taylor Lisle's novels, the marvelous and the everyday mix in haunting, memorable ways. (Fiction. 11-13) .
From the Publisher
"Almond makes a triumphant debut in the field of children's literature with prose that is at once eerie, magical, and poignant."Publishers Weekly, Starred
"A powerful, atmospheric story . . . the marvelous and everyday mix in haunting, memorable ways."Kirkus Reviews, Pointer
"A lovingly done, thought-provoking novel."School Library Journal, Starred
"Its strength as a novel is in its subtlety. . . . Skellig is a fine book."
The New York Times Book Review
"Some of the writing takes one's breath away."Booklist, Starred
Read an Excerpt
I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon. It was the day after we moved into Falconer Road. The winter was ending. Mum had said we'd be moving just in time for the spring. Nobody else was there. Just me. The others were inside the house with Dr. Death, worrying about the baby.
He was lying there in the darkness behind the tea chests, in the dust and dirt. It was as if he'd been there forever. He was filthy and pale and dried out and I thought he was dead. I couldn't have been more wrong. I'd soon begin to see the truth about him, that there'd never been another creature like him in the world.
We called it the garage because that's what the real estate agent, Mr. Stone, called it. It was more like a demolition site or a rubbish dump or like one of those ancient warehouses they keep pulling down at the wharf. Stone led us down the garden, tugged the door open, and shined his little flashlight into the gloom. We shoved our heads in at the doorway with him.
"You have to see it with your mind's eye," he said. "See it cleaned, with new doors and the roof repaired. See it as a wonderful two-car garage."
He looked at me with a stupid grin on his face.
"Or something for you, lad-a hideaway for you and your pals. What about that, eh?"
I looked away. I didn't want anything to do with him. All the way round the house it had been the same. Just see it in your mind's eye. Just imagine what could be done. All the way round I kept thinking of the old man, Ernie Myers, that had lived here on his own for years. He'd been dead nearly a week before they found him under the table in the kitchen. That's what I saw when Stone told us about seeing with the mind's eye. He even said it when we got to the dining room and there was an old cracked toilet sitting there in the comer behind a plywood screen. I just wanted him to shut up, but he whispered that toward the end Ernie couldn't manage the stairs. His bed was brought in here and a toilet was put in so everything was easy for him. Stone looked at me like he didn't think I should know about such things. I wanted to get out, to get back to our old house again, but Mum and Dad took it all in. They went on like it was going to be some big adventure. They bought the house. They started cleaning it and scrubbing it and painting it. Then the baby came too early. And here we were.
I NEARLY GOT INTO THE GARAGE that Sunday morning. I took my own flashlight and shined it in. The outside doors to the back lane must have fallen off years ago and there were dozens of massive planks nailed across the entrance. The timbers holding the roof were rotten and the roof was sagging in. The bits of the floor you could see between the rubbish were full of cracks and holes. The people that took the rubbish out of the house were supposed to take it out of the garage as well, but they took one look at the place and said they wouldn't go in it even for extra money. There were old chests of drawers and broken washbasins and bags of cement, ancient doors leaning against the walls, deck chairs with the cloth seats rotted away. Great rolls of rope and cable hung from nails. Heaps of water pipes and great boxes of rusty nails were scattered on the floor. Everything was covered in dust and spiders' webs. There was mortar that had fallen from the walls. 'There was a little window in one of the walls but it was filthy and there were rolls of cracked linoleum standing in front of it. The place stank of rot and dust. Even the bricks were crumbling like they couldn't bear the weight anymore. It was like the whole thing was sick of itself and would collapse in a heap and have to get bulldozed away.
I heard something scratching in one of the corners, and something scuttling about; then it all stopped and it was just dead quiet in there.
I stood daring myself to go in.
I was just going to slip inside when I heard Mum shouting at me
"Michael! What you doing?"
She was at the back door.
"Didn't we tell you to wait till we're sure it's
I stepped back and looked at her.
"Well, didn't we?" she shouted.
"Yes," I said.
"So keep out! All right?"
I shoved the door and it lurched half shut on its single hinge.
"All right?" she yelled.
',All right,” said. "Yes. All right. All right."
"Do you not think we've got more to worry about than stupid you getting crushed in a stupid garage?
"You just keep out, then! Right?"
"Right. Right, right, right.
Then I went back into the wilderness we called garden and she went back to the stupid baby.