When the mountains roared by Jess Butterworth
Hachette, 2018. ISBN 9781510102118
(Ages 9-12) Highly recommended. Themes: Grief. Fear. Wildlife conservation. India - Family life.
Jess Butterworth drew inspiration for When the mountains roared from her own family stories, her grandparents' travels to India in the 1960s and her own childhood experiences living with them at the foot of the Himalayas. She descriptively captures the sensory experiences, the diverse sights and sounds, cityscapes and countryside and wildlife encounters. Her understandings of the Indian way of life resonate here. The imprint of the leopard, from the roaring white silhouette and the rich yellow and brown markings of the covers that continue as bold chapter headings, set the scene for her message of wildlife conservation.
Coping with the death of her mother, Ruby is overcome by her fears, afraid of the dark, of travelling by car, going to sleep and not waking up in the morning. She lives with her father and grandmother in Western Australia in a rural hotel which has fallen into disrepair and her father has borrowed money from loan sharks to save the property. Desperate to escape from their problems they abandon their home, take only a few possessions, their collie dog Polly, and drive through the night to Perth. Along the way they collect a baby joey which Nan hides in her luggage.
Nan's afraid of flying so they board a cruise ship bound for India. Their tiring journey finally brings them to the bottom of the Himachal Pradesh and a haunted mountain. Life for the family is confronting, their new hotel needs a large amount of work, with the owners involved in wildlife poaching. Ruby captures photos of the beautiful world around the hotel; she is an observer, listening to secret conversations and trailing her father's employers. There are moments of fun and laughter, the colourful Holi festival, caring for Joey, watching Bollywood films, making friends with Praveen and dancing to Bollywood music with Dad and Nan.
Ruby's bravery in tracking the poachers, searching for the elusive leopard, attests to her strength of character, overcoming her fears and grief. With her Grandma and loyal friend Praveen they embark on a treacherous journey into the mountains, each show courage in the face of danger. The resolution brings both closure and hope for the future, the author concluding with a heartfelt message about the need to conserve and protect native wildlife and the risk of invasive species taking over the natural environment.
When the mountains roared is a beautifully crafted story, where each of the main characters comes to terms with the loss of a loved one, and is an emotive journey amongst the beauty and splendour of the Himalayan foothills. Share this with a middle primary class, explore the detailed and descriptive narrative, the insightful poignant journey Ruby undertakes, then research the endangered wildlife and the impact of the poaching trade.