With its old-fashioned storytelling, sparkling throughout with a thoroughly modern and refreshing sensibility, Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy (@vashti_hardy) is a delightful tale of exploration, ingenuity and friendship.
The Brightstorm twins, Arthur and Maude, find themselves orphaned when their father fails to return from his expedition to South Polaris. When a rival explorer smears their father’s name, the twins determine to prove his innocence and set off to find out the truth about their father’s final days.
Within just a few pages I found myself drawing parallels with classics both new and old; the world of Mary Poppins doesn’t seem far off, and the transcontinental adventuring of a young boy and girl learning about both the loyalty and treachery of adults, aided by animal companions not entirely unlike daemons and the wonderful Iorek Byrnison made me think of the ‘The Northern Lights’ for a younger readership.
Whilst the steampunk setting is full of Victorian charm and character, the attitudes and behaviours are far from old-fashioned, giving this story a lively vitality and relevance.
“I built my ship with a different philosophy in mind: we are all in this together, and we’ll have to take on different roles throughout this journey, so titles have no place here. It’s the strength of our ideas that will give us authority, not a title we bear,” says Harriet, the inspiring captain of the skyship that takes Arthur and Maude to South Polaris.
As the story develops it’s also refreshing to see Arthur full of respect for Harriet, and being quite open about looking up to a female role model. The message that clever, creative women don’t only inspire girls, but can also motivate boys (and men) is still one that is rarely heard in media of any sort for children.
With broad appeal across a wide age range, working well as both a read-aloud and an exciting solo read for girls and boys, Brightstorm will earn a place in many a heart. I hope the hints that a second adventure with Maude and Arther is on the horizon do come true!
One of our favourite scenes in this book is a breathtaking moment when Harriet’s house in 4 Archangel Street transforms into a skyship. Its magical mechanics and the sheer audacity Harriet’s vision is thrilling. The tantalising descriptions reminded my 9 year old and me of the Passarola, a flying machine combining bird and hot-air balloon features, designed by Bartolomeu de Gusmão in the 18th century, which we first discovered last year in Impossible Inventions by Małgorzata Mycielska, illustrated by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski.
With all this in mind we set about thinking how we could achieve something similar and came up with the idea of combining a little bit of origami and papercraft to create our own magically transformed skyship.
Using this balloon template we cut out 6 balloons, folded them in half and stuck them one on top of the other.
Then it was a question of threading the hot air balloon and the boat together, before setting them to sail around our kitchen!
All our hard work was rewarded with lemon iced biscuits as baking these was a speciality of Arthur and Maude’s father.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from its publishers, Scholastic.