Big Sky Mountain by Alex Milway

Big Sky Mountain – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: serious subjects delivered with fun.
Children’s book title: Big Sky Mountain.
Children’s author: Alex Milway.
Genre: Chapter book fiction for more confident readers in KS1 and lower KS2.
Published by: Piccadilly Press.
ISBN: 9781848129726
Recommended for children aged: 5-8.
First published: Paperback June 2021.
This children’s book is ideal for: 5-8-year-olds to read aloud.

Big Sky Mountain by Alex Milway

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Our review:

Alex Milway dedicates this book to his Gran who was as “tough as boots and absolutely fearless”. Very early on we meet the “wild haired old lady” who is the fictional equivalent of his own grandmother. This wonderful old lady is Grandma Nan Wild who has lived on her own for twenty three years in a log cabin on the shore of Jewel Lake, two hundred miles from the nearest houses and shops, in the wilderness that is Big Sky Mountain.

Nan’s solitude is brought to an end by the arrival of Rosa, her granddaughter, a city girl who has come to live with her and who has nowhere else to go. Tom, the pilot of a tiny seaplane delivers essential supplies to Nan every few months and this time his cargo contains an unexpected item:

“Who’s this then?…..I didn’t ask you to bring me a girl, Tom”.

Rosa introduces herself but no precious story time is spent on whys or wherefores or history and, along with Rosa, the reader is flown into Nan Wild’s world of Big Sky Mountain with resident moose, owls, wolves and a never-ending horizon. Just before he leaves Tom forecasts a storm rolling in from the north and he leaves Rosa and Nan to get acquainted.

The predicted storm arrives “good and strong” but the homely warmth of the fairy tale log cabin offers security and comfort and the next day Rosa and Nan embark on the adventure that is central to the story. We soon meet Albert the moose, and he is just the first of an entertaining bunch of creatures that share this corner of the wilderness with Nan. Rosa learns to respect and care for these new friends and in his note at the end of the book Alex Milway explains how important this is to him:

“I truly feel that every creature on this planet is connected, in one way or another. The tiniest insect is just as important as the bawdiest elephant and ultimately every human”.

Rosa finds her own wildness in Big Sky Mountain as she learns to paddle and steer a canoe and mediates in a war between a grumpy hare, who doesn’t like change and newcomer beavers who have arrived to create a new home on Gold River.

The natural world is an ever-present force throughout the book. In chapter nine, Nan and Rosa make a shelter and camp out under the stars by the river. This is the first time Rosa has slept outdoors and Alex Milway captures the magic with an economy that will resonate with his young readers:

“The sky looked unlike anything Rosa had ever experienced. Huge clusters of shimmering blue and pink stars formed a rippling backbone across the heavens.”

Rosa learns from Nan how to live in and treasure this wonderful world that we share with animals and nature and the importance of peaceful co-existence is the core theme of the book – we all have a right to be here. These serious subjects are delivered with humour and fun via the developing relationship between Rosa and Nan. Happily, we will enjoy more Rosa and Nan adventures because Big Sky Mountain is the first of a four-book series. The maps, illustrations and notes from the author (the one about cabins is particularly good) add greatly to the overall reading experience.

The adventure ends with Rosa telling her adventure story to Mr Hibberdee, an itinerant bear that sells his honey and jam to the creatures of Big Sky Mountain. The bear decides that Rosa’s story is worth more than money, that it was a pleasure doing business with her and gives her another jar of honey.

“Everything good?” asks Grandma Nan…”yes, it is” replies Rosa – “everything is perfect.” and who are we to argue?

Many thanks to Piccadilly Press for the review copy.

If you like Big Sky Mountain by Alex Milway you might also like: Gangster School: Gruffles and the Killer Sheep by Kate Wiseman, Can You Whistle, Johanna? by Ulf Stark and Anna Höglund, Metropolis by Benoit Tardif, Picklewitch & Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret by Claire Barker our list of graphic novels for 7-11 year olds, and our review of the 2021 Carnegie Shortlist.

Browse more books for KS1 and  books for year 3

About Patrick Sanders

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Patrick is a former secondary English teacher and headteacher with over 35 years of experience. He is a husband, father and grandfather. Reviews by Patrick Sanders