Look out, look out there’s a scarecrow about! Big change leads to even bigger scares in a darkly humorous, emotionally intelligent and astutely aware supernatural schoolyard story.
Hattie Mole’s life is being turned upside down. Dad is moving the family to the village of Little Plug and Hattie is dreading going to a new school, squirming at the thought of making new friends and cannot get the smell of cow poo out of her nose. After a disastrous day, Hattie creates a Scarecrow to protect the only place at school she feels happy…the den. Crow isn’t one for just standing guard though and after magically coming to life he is soon causing chaos and scaring everyone. Can Hattie put an end to Crow’s frightening ways? Can she overcome her fears? Will she make some friends?
Being uprooted and having to start over is never easy; settling into a new home, building new friendships and navigating unfamiliar surroundings can be incredibly challenging. Sometimes a creation of your own making is exactly what is needed to make the transition easier. I have childhood memories of being terrified by Worzel Gummidge so a scarecrow BFF would be low down on my list of priorities but each to their own.
Nicola Skinner is a brilliant writer of important books that address real issues that children have to deal with and that they can easily relate to. Her latest book, Crow, is another excellent read that will bring comfort and reassurances to youngsters who are moving away from everything they know. In a story that merges the everyday with the supernatural, children will feel seen, their experiences recognised, and their thoughts and feelings validated.
Crow is quirky, imaginative and occasionally frightening as it deals with Hattie’s change in circumstances that all get rather out of hand as her new best friend takes his role of protector very seriously and is soon causing more problems than he is solving. It is a smartly written and concise narrative with a clever mirroring of the two main protagonists. Crow’s negative character development as he pushes people away allows Hattie to make connections with her own behaviours and change her ways for the better.
We don’t get enough dark comedic humour in early and accessible chapter books which is unfortunate as there is certainly a growing market for this not-to-everyone's-taste brand of laughs and scares. It is is great to have a title that hits the mark for a younger audience before they move on to longer reads such as Sticky Pines (Dashe Roberts), Crater Lake (Jennifer Killick) or another Barrington Stoke title, A Most Peculiar Toy Factory (Alex Bell). Crow’s deliciously dark personality serves up some fabulously funny moments with that slight macabre edge and his literal providing of the scares is a genius play on scarecrow, the wordplay is only bettered by Straun’s own brand of confused idioms.
Presenting as neurodivergent, Hattie is a complicated little character who doesn’t always come across as likeable. Peel back the layers and, like many of us, her meanness is a defence mechanism to keep the anxieties and fears at bay. Addressing some of Hattie’s traits - she enjoys her own space, needs to have things done in an exact way, hates the feel of certain clothes, struggles to connect with other children and doesn’t always read situations correctly - readers are given an honest and perceptive portrayal of a child who experiences the world differently to many of her peers and the daily challenges and thought processes that she goes through.
Bringing the story, and in Crow’s case, literally, to life, is the awesome artwork of Rebecca Bagely whose mix of full and partial page black and white artwork could not capture the tone more perfectly. Short and pacy chapters provide plenty of points to pause and aid children in developing reading stamina although with such engaging storytelling I suspect most will be reading from first page to last. As with all Barrington Stoke reads dyslexic-friendly font and page tint ensure Crow can be accessed and enjoyed by all and the high-interest low-readability text is perfect for children in years two and three.
With a few frights along the way, this very left-field tale of coping with anxiety and finding friends - assisted by the most unlikely source - is highly entertaining and a great deal of fun. Offering some unique emotional support - I’ll never be able to look at a scarecrow the same way ever again, it will go down very well with any child who is experiencing upheaval in their own lives (no promise of scarecrows of your own making coming to life).
Recommended for 7+.
With huge thanks to Barrington Stoke for the copy I received in exchange for an honest review.