The International Writers Magazine
Children's Book Review

Red Moon by Rachel Anderson
Paperback 256 pages (April 6, 2006)
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
ISBN: 0340799404
Vanessa Hyde review

here is no question that Rachel Anderson, the winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, has delivered a brave novel Red Moon. This faces the awkward issues of race, prejudice, bullying, death and identity. Every parent would marvel at such a book which could provide a basic set up of answers in a moral tale for their kids.

However, after reading Red Moon I am not so sure that children aged I’d say, eleven onwards would really engage with this story.

Initially Hamish is not a likeable character, despite the fact he is bullied and experiences not the most ordinary life with his intellectual French mother and overpowering Scottish father. He unfortunately is presented as one of the kids you knew at school that was geeky but never seemed to want to help themselves. All kids like to identify or even imagine themselves being the central character of the story they read, that is, if the little hero of the book seems "cool" or up for an adventure. The reality is that little Hamish, bless him, is too sarcastic and negative for someone his age to really respond too and connect with.

The fact that Hamish is bullied conjures up pity and evokes sympathy from the reader, this is a helpful way for children to learn ethics of bullying with their peers in the classroom and comprehend even more the suffering of those who experience being bullied. Unfortunately the vocabulary also is quite advanced for a young readership, even myself an English student had to ponder over the meaning of a few words.

The element of this book which makes it worth reading is it’s probably one of the first children’s novels that educates and provides children with an insight as to what other children and people suffer from experiencing and emigrating from war or poverty zones. It likely would have been difficult writing for children about a subject which is sensitive and political without trying to be upsetting or lacking detail. Anderson cleverly has portrayed one of the world’s most current debated issues to children in a simple and comfortable way for them to understand. The fact she writes Hamish’s narrative and then contrasts it with Ahmed’s narrative will highlight to the readers the difference in lifestyles both boys have. Ahmed's family try to flee Africa to go to Europe and a better life. After Hamish's stepfather dies Hamish's mother has an opportunity to study in France and takes Hamish along with her to the University by the sea. Hamish discovers that no one likes 'strangers' here and seem indifferent to the plight of refugees. Ahmed gets onto a boat with his family after a lot of money has changed hands and the boat sinks. He alone reaches the shores of France and discovers that although he is alive he is completely ignored, as a piece of driftwood that people would like to plunge back into the sea.

Both boys have lost a parent in different methods. Many children about to encounter adolescence will endure feelings such as being lost, alone, confused at the world and not fully understanding the world’s ways at some point.

The best outcome of the story is the fact that after some hestitation and awkwardness Hamish learns to help Ahmed. First he tries to give him food, but Ahmed needs more, he needs guidance and Hamish isn't sure he is up to that at all. Red Moon inspires us to acknowledge the suffering of others in cultures different from our own and encourages children to think beyond the boundaries. I’m sure teachers would find this book a useful book to dip into and point out the scenarios to help children to learn about war, racism and famine. Though the reality is a harsh one to become accustomed too, everyone, old or young needs to prepare for what could be ahead.

In the end Hamish realises he has to help Ahmed get to England and he becomes a better person because of Ahmed. It's a shame, I sense his redemption comes too late in the story because I’m not sure if a child reading this will persevere unto the end.
© Venessa Hyde March 20th 2006

Vanessa is 2nd year Creative Arts student at the University of Portsmouth

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