The Swallows Nest review of SeaBEAN


Read it on the Swallows Nest website

One of the first things that struck me when I received a copy of Sarah Holding’s SeaBEAN was the unusual cover, which initially appears dark but brightens when touched, revealing the bright seascape below. The cover gives the impression that the story within will be original and engaging, and readers will not be disappointed.

An absorbing and intelligent tale with a strong environmental angle, SeaBEAN tells the story of Alice, a ten year old girl who lives within a tiny community on the remote and isolated island of St. Kilda, far from the British mainland. Although some of the story is revealed through Alice’s blog and other parts in a third-person narrative, the two blend together well. The plot weaves together several different elements: the upheaval in Alice’s own family that surrounds the birth of her baby brother, the efforts by locals to save the island frombecoming the site of an oil rig, and the discovery of the C-Bean, a mysterious box that turns out to be a remarkable high-tech classroom. SeaBEAN is set in 2018, and this slightly futuristic aspect is handled with such skill and subtlety that it never overwhelms the plot. As a result, even the story’s most fantastical elements appear very believable.

The most notable of the C-Bean’s powers is its ability to transport Alice and her friends to different parts of the world. This adds a great sense of adventure to the story, and it also serves to emphasize the sense of global interconnectedness that appears to be at the core of the book’s environmental message. On their travels, Alice and her classmates pick up an array of interesting souvenirs, including the injured parrot that my own children found particularly entertaining.

One of SeaBEAN’s biggest strengths is the way in which Sarah Holding makes the island of St. Kilda a character in the story. The reader gets a very strong sense of this barren, windswept island and of the reasons why it is so well-loved by its few residents. This contributes strongly to the overall message that landscapes and the environment are to be valued and protected.

As for the striking cover; it could be called a gimmick, but if so, it is a nice gimmick, and anything that inspires reluctant readers to take an interest in a book is well worth it. My children had great fun making fingerprints and handprints on it, and I’m sure many other children will find it similarly entertaining. SeaBEAN will provide a very enjoyable and informative read for children aged 8 years and over.

SeaBEAN is part of a trilogy of books. The second and third books in the trilogy, SeaWAR and SeaRise, are due out in 2014.