En route to the Brazilian city of Manaus, a tiny passenger plane crash-lands in the Amazon jungle. Four children walk away from the smoking wreckage, and into the greatest adventure of their lives. In their bid to reach civilisation, the terrified children need to dig deep, to fight their personal demons, and find courage in a terrain where only the strong survive.
The Explorer, is without doubt, one of the best children’s books I’ve reviewed this year. Katherine Rundell has established a reputation for luscious and visionary fiction, and her latest offering excels on this front. Fred, the main protagonist, becomes the natural leader of the group. Although labelled ‘sensible’ in his everyday life, Fred knows that he has the heart of an explorer. The Amazon reaches out ‘…like a trumpet call to a part of him he had not known existed’
The jungle is a beautiful seductress. Huge moons, ‘monkeys whirligigging around the trees’, luminous dancing dragonflies, and oh, such greenness. Lime, emerald, moss, and jade, and a soil that is soft and dusty, smelling ‘…of a thousand warm days’. The survivors begin to make use of the jungle’s natural gifts. A scene where they master the art of fire-making with a sheaf of twigs, is arresting and lovely,
The fire caught at them, made five burning fingers, ate them whole…made a noise like an idea being born, a crackle that sounded like hope
And this hope spurs them on. Living on grub pancakes, (sandy inside, somewhat crunchy, but not notably worse than school dinners), they decide to navigate the mighty Amazon. Its silver waters lead them to a mysterious ruined city, and the romantic figure of The Explorer, a hermit-like English gentleman, who holds the key to their future.
Full of passion and knowledge (check out eye-licker bees and prepare to be astonished), this is a colourful old-fashioned adventure. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The Explorer is published by Bloomsbury Children, 416 pages.