Michael Morpurgo is a national treasure as far as I am concerned. Anyone who can write for children on such important themes as asylum, the tsunami, the effects of the Iraq war, childhood forced adoption to Australia (and on and on the list goes) is a treasure as far as I am concerned. I have read so many of this books over the years and I still look out for new ones on the book shelves.
His primary audience may be children but his books do not have an age ceiling. This is because his writing style is not simplistic or patronising. He writes about important things because he knows children are interested in important things.
‘Running Wild’ is a book that stayed with me long after reading it. I am not a huge fan of animal stories but the key factor here is that it is about a boy interacting with animals. It is the story of a boy adapting because of circumstances.
At the start of the story, Will and his mother are grieving over the loss of his father, a soldier killed in action. To avoid a Christmas at home without him, they head off to Indonesia only to be in the centre of catastrophe when the tsunami struck. An elephant called Oona senses the imminent danger and runs off and keeps running. Separated from his mother, Will sticks with Oona and finds himself deep in the jungle where he must survive.
Will changes, as indeed he must if he is to survive, and it is this theme of identity that is most riveting in this story. There is an extract that makes this point so clearly. Will has been away from humans for some time at this point.
“And even to look at I wasn’t the same person any more. From time to time I’d catch sight of myself when I went to fish in a river or to have a drink. The boy I saw staring back at me hardly resembled the same boy who had been carried off on Oona’s back all that time ago… I was a mess. My hair hung down almost to my shoulders, and was no longer the colour of ripe corn, but was bleached almost white now- my eyebrows too. And my skin was nut brown, with sun or dirt or both. I looked as I felt, like someone else altogether.” p113
‘Running Wild’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?