At the front of the YA title, A Map of Leaves by Yarrow Townsend (published by Chicken House) is a delightful map, with places like Roaring Weir and Dead Elm Strand. The inclusion of a map often promises an adventurous journey and that is the case here.
We soon meet twelve-year-old Orla Carson, and her horse Captain, but already we are launched into a world where the interconnectedness of humans and nature, especially plants, is clear. Orla was introduced to the magic of the plant world by her mother who passed on a deep understanding of the properties, uses and unique qualities of the plants in their garden and beyond. Orla lives alone now and magically; plants speak to her. She is using different plants to treat Captain’s hoof.
Avoiding spoilers here. Changes lead to Orla’s way of life being threatened and with fierce independence and bravery she sets out to discover what disease is damaging the plants. The problem has also led to people getting sick and dying so the stakes are high.
On her travels Orla meets Idris and Ariana, who work to help her overcome some of the difficulties, at times despite Orla’s impatience and drive to correct the wrong impression many have of her mother, who also tried to counter the threat to the plants and villagers. The map is brought into good use as the journey takes Orla far up river and into areas she does not remember ever having been before. On the journey she gets to know Haulers, who she was rightly suspicious of, and she works against the interests of the Warden. She finds more about her mother’s efforts to find solutions.
A well-paced and exciting tale, this book is a joy. Inventively told in chapters which each begin with a description of a plant that has significance within the chapter. The language choice is fresh with well-observed descriptions of plants within their settings, including gardens, fields, dark forests, fast-flowing rivers and underwater. To give you a flavour here is a quote:
‘Some had leaves that curled and twisted against the glass. Others draped strings of red berries like jewels from hidden vines. Flowers like angels’ trumpets gathered high in the rafters, while creeping roots ran down like claws into the earth.’
— Yarrow Townsend, The Map of Leaves
The themes are of friendship and courage, with a strong appreciation of the importance of valuing and nurturing the environment. The story also shows how different characters can work for a common good, even when their goals do not completely align.
A page-turner of a tale with well-crafted characters and beautiful illustrations. It is hard to believe this is Yarrow Townsend’s debut, certainly an author to follow, whether the next book has a map at the front or not.
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Thank you for your lovely words, Jill. I’m very glad you enjoyed the adventure – and the map!
So pleased you and Rachel made the Branford Boase Award longlist for the outstanding debut novel for children.