'Crater Lake' by Jennifer Killick: 5 ⭐Review
Updated: Aug 10
Horror books and primary schools...not a great mix in my previous experience...a viewing-gone-wrong of The Literacy Shed's 'Alma' having made me slightly wary (watch it for yourself at https://www.literacyshed.com/alma.html if you don't mind never being happy about going into toy shops again!!).
However...along came this book, and, having seen the enjoyment and enthusiasm with which my Y6 class listened as we read together, I may need to come out from behind the sofa, be a big brave boy, and try some more of them!
This is what I would call 'fright-light' - more than enough to be creepy but not enough to terrify, and reminded me a little of 'Stranger Things' and those classic 80's kid movies where a gang of misfits save the day (think 'Goonies', 'ET', etc.). The premise is that of a Year 6 residential where things definitely do not go to plan...
There are zombie-like teachers and fellow students, strange mists and goings-on by the lake, and an abandoned outdoor pursuits centre where the action takes place. The final confrontation scene, with gruesome description of a teacher morphing into insect/alien had groans of both disgust and delight in equal measure!
This would be an absolutely incredible movie, with all the hallmark characters and events of the genre - misfit heroes, loyal friends, evil teachers, chases along abandoned corridors to escape from an extra-terrestrial foe intent on taking over humankind...it has them all, in spades.
Starting with the slap of a bloodied hand on the windscreen of the school bus to jump readers out of their seats, the action continues at a frenetic pace throughout, with frights, friendship issues and farts all playing their part along the way.
The fast pace and dark humour, along with relatable charcters, events and themes all made this an instant favourite amongst my pupils and having seen feedback online, many more around the country too.
Indeed, such is the book's appeal, it has been placed on the Booktrust list of 'Bookbuzz' titles for 2020/21 (https://www.booktrust.org.uk/what-we-do/programmes-and-campaigns/bookbuzz/students/bookbuzz-books/)
What I like about this book is the classic underdog nature of the main characters...an overwhelmingly outnumbered gang of misfits with medical ailments, personality issues and family secrets, who come together and emerge stronger as they battle against the 'bugged-out' evil teachers and fellow pupils who have been changed into insects as they sleep. I also particularly liked the way that author Jennifer Killick didn't shy away from the medical issue that affects her main hero, Lance -sleep apnoea - and instead it became an important part of the plot. See more about her views on confronting taboo issues like this head-on in this interview: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/news-and-features/features/2020/june/yuck-jennifer-killick-on-the-surprising-power-of-toilet-humour/.
I had decided, given the smaller class and less rigid costraints in terms of curriculum requirements, to try some new books and ideas out on the bubble I've been lucky enough to have over the last few weeks, and this text was one of them. I'm glad it was. The children, as I've said, enjoyed all aspects - the humour, horror, and humanity of the story, and produced some great work as a result of their engagement with the text. (Unit planning to appear on here soon...watch this space, but comic book re-tellings, news reports, research into the real Crater Lake, investigating wasp varieties and making 3-d models were all part of our two-week 'read and respond' sessions around the story).
Author Jennifer Killick has already announced plans for a (scarier!) sequel. Never mind not sleeping in case I get 'bugged-out', my pupils and I are having sleepless nights in restless anticipation...
Author: Jennifer Killick (@JenniferKillick)
Publisher: Firefly Press (@FireflyPress)
Reviewer: Rich Simpson (@richreadalot)