This review contains spoilers.
I love Michael Morpurgo's writing, I think his stories are beautiful and so well crafted. After enjoying his classic War Horse so much, and remembering the Butterfly Lion from when I was a child (and seeing both in the theatre) I vowed to read more of his novels. I started with Out of the Ashes, a story about foot and mouth disease and the impact it has on a Devon community. I remember the outbreak so vividly, I can't believe it was thirteen years ago. Something which had such an enormous impact on farmers and the communities surrounding them has been sympathetically and accurately documented in this book.
Amazon Description - This story is not a story at all. It all happened. On New Year's Day Becky Morley begins to write her diary. By March, her world has changed for ever. Foot-and-mouth disease breaks out on a pig farm hundreds of miles from the Morleys' Devon home, but soon the nightmare is a few fields away. Local sheep are infected and every animal is destroyed. Will the Morleys' flock be next? Will their pedigree dairy herd, the sows with their piglets, and Little Josh, Becky's hand-reared lamb, survive? Or will they be slaughtered too? The waiting and hoping is the most agonizing experience of Becky's life . . .
This is obviously a children's book so I read it in less than an hour but it was really harrowing and thought provoking. The description of the fear and panic that people felt at the beginning of the outbreak was so accurate and Morpurgo really captured the dread which gripped the countryside at this time. When the animals were being put down, there was such a sense of dispair. Farmer's whole livelyhoods were destroyed, herds which they may have been breeding for many years and sometimes generations were just killed. My blood went cold when reading it, it was so clinical and incredibly sad.
Becky's father develops depression after all his animals are killed. I like that Morpurgo tackled this issue because it wasn't all done and dusted once the corpses had been burned. Farmers feel an incredible responsibility towards their animals and to see them all being slaughtered just because of the disease (a very dangerous disease, I understand that) must have been terrible. I also feel like children's books, for older children anyway, should lightly address issues like mental health. These things affect many children and their parents or family but they don't know who to talk to about it or what to do. It also shows the children that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, there is a life after devastation. There were illustrations in the book, some which were pretty sad, but they did break up the intensity of the story which would be good for younger readers.
Not one of Morpurgo's more romantic novels but a thought-provoking, realistic on none the less.
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