The Golden Swift by Lev Grossman

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

Children’s books perform so many valuable tasks.  They can foster a love of reading, entertain, banish boredom, and sometimes educate and reassure.  The Golden Swift fulfils all of the above.  A delightful mix of fantasy, fact and plot, it will have wide appeal to middle school children.

In the second of this series, Kate and her brother Tom, set off in the magical Silver Arrow, featured in the first book, to find their missing Uncle Herbert.  They are the conductors and are thrilled by the exciting variety of carriages amongst which feature a palatial sleeping car, a restaurant and even a garden car.

While searching for their uncle, they are on a special mission to rescue endangered animals on the brink of extinction. Accompanying them is a member of a threatened species, the Cassowary- the world’s most dangerous bird!

When they encounter another fantastic steam train, the Golden Swift, their adventure begins….

Neatly woven into this is the message of the planet’s plight caused by climate change and mankind’s activity.

They learn that 13,000 years ago, lynx became extinct in Scotland due to excessive hunting. They used to prey on deer, but with their disappearance, deer herds increased to the degree that landscapes there were overgrazed. The problem remains today. 100,000 deer have to be culled annually.  Beavers and Sea Eagles are no longer found in Britain, too.

Wolves vanished from Yellowstone, but when it was realised how their disappearance had wrecked the ecology of the Park, work has begun to restore the balance of life there.

Lev Grossman does not preach but encourages awareness by listing some of the amazing creatures whose existence is severely threatened, such as the barking deer, the gray whale and burying beetle. The most fascinating must be the immortal jellyfish. If threatened, it shrinks to a tiny baby, then when safe, steadily regrows. Science has yet to discover how often this happens.

The Golden Swift is made more convincing by its beginning with Kate’s normal life at home and school. Failing to get the role she longed for in the school musical, she feels her self-confidence drop. Escaping on the magical steam train is a thrilling antidote.  As they journey, they hear of the little Swift which rarely lands (even eating and mating mid-flight). They conclude that humans should try to emulate the Swift.  Its footprint is tiny.

For both young and old, The Golden Swift is a treat to read. Lev Grossman has carefully mingled the urgent message on the extinction crisis with a promise of optimism for the future.

No wonder that he is a best-selling author for both adults and children.

The Golden Swift

[2022]

by Lev Grossman

Bloomsbury

ISBN 978 152664 764 1

$14.99; 264pp

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