Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Welcome to day two of the Recommendations from Under the Radar blog event and the first day of my four-day series on Helen Dunmore's Ingo series.

When Colleen Mondor described the RADAR event as "about books we all individually feel have been overlooked," I knew exactly which books I would discuss and why. And I should probably explain as you may well be saying, "I've heard of Ingo" or "Helen Dunmore is well known!" Indeed. Helen Dunmore is an acclaimed and prolific writer of fiction, poetry, and children's books. She won the very first Orange prize for A Spell of Winter. And, Dunmore's Ingo series has been met with critical praise and strong sales, especially in the U.K. But here's the thing: You know that "next Harry Potter" phrase plaguing the papers these days? I think it belongs to the Ingo series. Or, to avoid the superlative, the Ingo series is first-class fantasy and belongs in the hands of every middle grade reader.

Originally conceived as a trilogy, Helen Dunmore's Ingo series now contains four volumes: Ingo, The Tide Knot, The Deep, and the forthcoming The Crossing of Ingo. While clearly fantasy, they take place in today's contemporary Cornwall--both on land and under the seas. When Dunmore's hero, Sapphire Trewhella, finds she can live as a Merperson in the ocean, her world becomes divided. While she was born to earth and loves her family and home, the seas and the world of the Mer seduce her. In fact, one of the greatest strengths of Dunmore's series is Sapphire's characterization: as a preteen, Sapphy doesn't always make the best decisions. Instead, her decisions and emotions fluctuate like the tides.

Because the Ingo series concerns the border between the land and the seas, ethical and environmental issues come to the fore. These books belong to today's generation of readers who understand at a young age that caring for the environment is crucial to their survival.

Today I'll be introducing you to the first volume in Dunmore's series--Ingo. Tomorrow I'll review The Tide Knot. On Thursday, I'll feature an interview with Helen Dunmore. On Friday, I'll review The Deep, just released in the U.K.

by Helen Dunmore
(First reviewed in March 2006)

Sapphire (Sapphy) lives in Cornwall, on a hidden cove, with her older brother, Conor, and her parents. Sapphy's father is drawn to the sea and sings of Ingo to his children. Conor and Sapphy know the sea, their cove, and the tides like a suburban kid understands the rhythm of her own street. One day Sapphy's father disappears on his boat without a trace.

Matthew Trewhella's disappearance upsets daily life for Sapphy and her family. Mom takes employment out of town and Conor makes a new friend--a girl from the sea. When Conor-- ordinarily the best big brother you could ever have--abandons his sister to meet his new friend, Sapphy follows him into the ocean. There she meets Faro, a Merperson and brother of Conor's new friend, Elvira. Sapphy is drawn into the world of Mer, losing all sense of earth and earthly time.

Conor brings Sapphy out of the sea and she struggles with the impulse to return. It turns out that Sapphy and Conor have some Mer in them, each to varying degrees. Sapphy is ready to give up earth and to become one with the Mer, but Conor, more grounded in earth, holds her fast.

The beauty of Ingo is in Dunmore's lyrical prose and the atmosphere she creates. You can sense the pull of the tide and the song of the Mer when you read the novel. Sapphire's struggle to resist their pull is tangible and, as a reader, you hope she succeeds.
Today's RADAR schedule:

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: A discussion of author Ellen Emerson White and why she is "under the radar"

Jen Robinson's Book Page: The Changeling and The Velvet Room both by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Bildungsroman: Girl in a Box by Ouida Sebestyen

Finding Wonderland: A Door Near Here by Heather Quarles

Miss Erin: Girl With a Pen and Princess of Orange, both by Elisabeth Kyle

Fuse Number 8: The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry

Bookshelves of Doom: The Olivia Kidney series by Ellen Potter

Chicken Spaghetti: Natural History of Uncas Metcalf by Betsy Osborne

Writing and Ruminating: Jazz ABC by Wynton Marsalis

Semicolon: Today's topic is middle grade fiction.

The YA YA YAs: Massive by Julia Bell

Christopher Barzak at Chasing Ray