Title: George the Orphan Crow and the Creatures of Blossom Valley
Author: Helen Fox
Genre: Children’s Books, Middle-Grade
Published by AG Books
Year of Publication: 2016
Rating: 2/5 stars
Note: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Helen Fox, for sending me this book for review.
Towards the end of July, I received a message through my contact form from Ms Helen Fox, an author from the UK, who asked me to review her middle-grade book and I gladly accepted it. The book I will be reviewing today is entitled George the Orphan Crow and the Creatures of Blossom Valley and it was published in 2016.
This is the story of George, an orphan crow who loses his parents at the beginning of the book, but he soon finds shelter in the enchantingly beautiful Bloom Valley and his new friends keep him company and make him forget about his grief. Bloom Valley is not only a magical place, but a welcoming community comprised of hardworking and friendly animals. George learns a few things about the valley, its inhabitants and their customs. As time goes by, he becomes more courageous through a series of events which take place both inside and outside of Bloom Valley. The magical valley is said to be linked to a legend of a bygone kingdom, but George is a newcomer, so Thelma the spider, who is the head of the creatures, hesitates to tell him this secret; therefore George will have to learn about it the hard way.
I like the way Penny Wood, Bloom Valley and other lands were built with the exception of the legend. For example, Bloom Valley has villages, schools, a hospital where Tawny Owl takes care of her patients and the ambulance cart is pulled by four hares; there is a Music Hall which also serves as a court, the squirrels protect the ivy surrounding the valley like sentinels and all animals gather on every evening before sunset to sing their Good Night Song. Even if this beautiful valley is full of animals that welcome and help the ones in need, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any tensions between them. The ladybirds think they are discriminated by Thelma who protects the butterflies from harm: therefore Rosa the ladybird and her daughter Heather plot to kill the butterflies, especially Princess Estella, to hurt Thelma whom they despise to death.
Though Thelma has her reasons to protect the precious butterflies, I still don’t understand why the ladybirds, the grasshoppers and the wood flies want to destroy them. Those butterflies are harmless and not very intelligent if you ask me. I mean we seldom hear the princess speak and when she does, it’s not enough to be considered an important character in the story. When it comes to the villains, they are pretty cartoonish, especially Rosa and Heather who seem evil just for evil’s sake: they are vain, egoistic and manipulative. They hate everyone and feel they are persecuted because Heather attempted to drown Prince Orpheo, her secret crush and Thelma was apparently rude towards Heather, accusing her that she was bullying the butterflies. Ever since Rosa came to Bloom’s Valley, she had been questioning Thelma’s authority and dismissed the veridicality of the legend. On the other hand, Gaspar the grasshopper and his gang talk like old-fashioned gangsters, while Hugo the wood fly and his gang talk funny too but they are also pretty annoying. They seem like extremists or an anarchical group who love to fight no matter if they are right or wrong.
‘We mustn’t let the privileged walk over the ordinary. The spider needs to learn that the wood flies are as important as any of her creatures and we have a right to invade anywhere, if it means a better life for our people.” (Page 109)
But now, let’s return to the good guys. Though George talks a bit maturely for his age (yes, he lost his parents prematurely, but still), I like the fact that he easily befriends other inhabitants of Bloom Valley such as Bond the squirrel and head of the guards, Conti the tenor frog, Speedo the snail who loves entertaining and telling stories on the White Rock, Alphie a fellow crow, Thelma whom I’ve mentioned before, and also a character who doesn’t live in the valley, Plato the wise Owl. Though I felt sorry for George’s loss, I liked Plato a little more because he knows the entire history of the place, he has the role of a judge when an animal crosses the line and he has always something wise to say. Most of the other characters are developed and have a back-story of their own. The funniest characters are Conti and Speedo. Conti makes strange quacking sounds when he speaks, but he is one of George’s most loyal friends who would do anything for the crow; while Speedo is afraid of heights, but he is grateful for what George did to help him to fulfil his greatest wish.
Other positive aspects of this novel are the scenes from the first chapter which are filled with terror and grief and the way the animals see their fellow birds drop dead made me think of a shooting or a massacre seen from their perspective. The trial scene was very interesting with both female and male representatives of each family sitting in one of the three tiers and taking the role of the jury, while Plato the Owl was the judge. The writing was pretty good with visual and audible imagery added to the descriptions of all the places in the book. Also, the characters have great names such as Plato, Bond, Thelma, Conti, Speedo, Alphie, Orpheo, Swift, Gaspar, Willard, etc.
And now I’m going to reveal the main reasons for this low rating. After the consequences of the trial, the plot went in a very strange direction that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s true that the plot was pretty disjointed from the first chapters, but I thought it would get better eventually. Yes, I liked how George took action in a few scenes and saved the lives of innocent animals, but from those scenes to wood flies invading Bloom’s Valley just because of a lie that got out of hand it’s a bit far-fetched I know that this is a fictional story, but that invasion felt surreal and unbelievable. The second part of the book was very confusing because no one told us why those butterflies are so important and why everyone wants to kill them. I understood that they have royal blood, but, in most cases, the villains attempt to destroy them just to take revenge on Thelma. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy twists in any story, but I didn’t understand the necessity of that invasion. Was it added just to show how spiteful the wood flies are and how brave the inhabitants of Bloom Valley are? Maybe the author wanted to show how easily a misunderstanding can lead to conflict and the intention might have been good, but the conflict ended abruptly and anti-climactic. Furthermore, I wonder, how many wood flies does it take to injure or fight against larger animals like birds, squirrels or spiders?
“Stop it! What are we fighting for? Our leaders lied to us. They have led us into death and destruction. I don’t want to die. No one wants to die.” (Page 113)
As for the legend of the lost kingdom, it is a strange mixture of fairy-tales, Greek Myths and witch stories that confuse the reader even more. “I am the High priestess of the Council of Tartarus. At long last, we now have your land and shall reign over it for many years to come.” The High Priestess, circled the valley on her broomstick examining the surroundings. Then she raised her wand and cast her spell. (Page 128)
Unfortunately, this is not the only identity crisis this novel has. Besides the confusing legend, the book wants to be a fable comprising of themes such as grief, environmental issues, friendship, animal rights, gender equality, the problem of refugees and conflict. I would be all for those themes if they were woven well into the story, not forcefully stuffed into the plot confusing the reader. Because this book is targeted towards younger readers, it’s a no-brainer that morals play an important part into the story. However, I felt that the book was a bit too preachy at times and I’m not sure how kids would react to that. Also, even though I liked a few characters, the story was pretty hard to get into, not only because of the plot but also because of the dialogues that didn’t sound natural. Kids have shorter attention spans than adults; therefore if the story doesn’t keep them engaged, they abandon it and read something else.
“It’s all the humans’ fault”, an old crow said. ‘Mindless young folk throwing live cigarettes on the forest floor. No respect for nature, no regret for lost life. Don’t they listen to their parents and school teachers who tell them that without nature there won’t be life? Look at what they’ve done to us, the misery they’ve caused.” (Page 33)
In the end, I will let you decide if you want to pick up this book or not. Personally, I felt very confused and disappointed after finishing it.