From Hereabout Hill, by Michael Morpurgo
I usually avoid collections of short stories, mainly because I find them a bit like the curate found his egg (good in parts). They are often ideas that ‘didn’t quite make it’ to full novels. However, I was drawn to From Hereabout Hill because of the author and because, at Yellowbird, we are always talking about short stories. We are so used to longer books and films, that it’s easy to think that plots should be that complicated. When this happens, the story at 11+ level normally ends up way too big for the time allowed and format of five paragraphs.
This collection of short stories is a good way of reading something short to see how the story is constructed around a very tight idea. The nearest I’ve come to finding an author who can do this so well is the Australian author Colin Thiele. In fact, I was struck by one of the stories in Morpurgo’s collection being heavily influenced by The Shell by Colin Thiele – the one about the Cowrie shells. However, that won’t worry younger readers...and anyway, I’m suggesting this book mainly from the point of view of the craft of writing.
There are nine stories and, in my opinion, the first is the best. So, if your child reads no further than The Giant’s Necklace, it will not be a waste of time. Read it and deconstruct it. It’s a lesson in short story writing. Some of the stories in the collection are haunting and other poignant, but above all else they are superbly crafted by a writer who knows what he is doing.
Therefore, from a story-craft point of view, I would give this collection five Yellowbirds out of five. However, because there are echoes of other stories in this, albeit changed enough and modernised by a master craftsman, we feel this collection rates 4 out of 5 Yellowbirds: