Sky Hawk

Gill Lewis

Sky Hawk Gill Lewis (OUP Oxford) 32pp, RPP £8.99 Paperback, 978-0192756237 8-10 Junior/Middle

This review of Sky Hawk can be found on the Books for Keeps site

Thank you to Books for Keeps for permission to reproduce their review.

Nothing prepared me for seeing her right in front of me. It was as if the lochs and the mountains and the sky were folded deep inside her, as if she was a small piece of this vast landscape and none of it could exist without her.’

‘She’ is a rare osprey who has nested in a pine tree on the loch. The loch is above the farm belonging to Callum’s family in the Scottish Highlands, but it is fey, gypsyish Iona who has discovered the osprey and then reveals her whereabouts as a precious secret to Callum. Iona is an outsider in village society, left with her eccentric grandfather by a ‘feckless’ mother. But Lewis reveals that sometimes it is the ‘outsider’ who sees most. In this moving story, Iona is the one who is deeply in tune with the natural environment, able to stalk a red deer to within a hand’s breadth and catch trout with her bare hands. She leads the already sensitive Callum to see his own world more vividly, but the initial price is his friendship with his old laddish gang.

The two children name the osprey, Iris, after the Goddess of the wind and sky, and Iona’s watchfulness helps to save her when Iris is caught by fishing wire. This involves revealing Iris’ existence to Callum’s parents and Hamish at the local nature reserve. As part of a project to monitor ospreys, Hamish tags the bird with a transmitter so that her migration pattern can be tracked. Then events take a tragic turn and Iona falls victim to meningitis…

In dealing with his grief, Callum has to re-evaluate his friendships and let others share his secret, while in mourning Iona’s death, the villagers are also confronted with their attitudes to others.

In an audacious narrative twist, Gill Lewis now widens the scope of her book, as Callum and friends track Iris’ perilous journey to overwinter in the Gambia via her satellite position on Google Earth. On arrival, the bird falls ill from her old foot injury, anxiously monitored long distance by Callum and his friends. In desperation, Callum appeals to as many organisations as he can in the Gambia and receives an unexpected reply from a young Gambian girl, Jeneba who is lying sick in hospital.

Lewis now draws the threads of her story tightly together, as co-operation between the widely distant communities of the Scottish Highlands and the Gambia work to transform the life, first of wounded Iris and then of Jeneba herself. In helping Jeneba, Callum both brings his community together and finds a resolution to his own grief for Iona.

A bare outline of Sky Hawk makes it sound schematic, but Gill Lewis’ beautifully understated writing gently sweeps her reader along and the story, itself, quietly and lyrically conveys her moving and timely message of the interconnectedness of people with nature and people with people – whether within one village or across the earth. This is a beautiful book which will have resonance for many readers beyond its target readership. 

Themes from the book

Exploring the link between a human and a wild creature

Sometimes adults and children can feel closer to an animal than they do to other humans. Discuss Iona’s relationship with Iris compared to that with her grandfather and Callum.

How do we find out about her love of birds and particularly ospreys? What words would Iona use to describe Iris?
Would she talk to her grandfather about Iris?
How do we know that Callum is important to Iona?

Text Connections

This Morning I Met a Whale by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Christopher Birmingham

This illustrated short story is based on a real story of when a whale swam up the Thames and became stranded. The main character, Michael, promises to pass on the creature’s message about how humans are destroying the planet to others.

The Butterfly Lion – by Michael Morpurgo

This short novel follows Bertie as he grows up in the veldt in Africa where he rescues a white lion cub. When he moves away to boarding school in England the lion is sold into a circus, but they meet again and Bertie rescues the lion one more time.


The film based on the original book ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ by Barry Hines (aimed at 12+ readers). A new film version shortly to be released in autumn 2011.

Friendship patterns

Callum has to make some difficult decisions in the first half of the story brought about by conflicts between his friendship with Rob and Euan and that with Iona.

How do we find out how Rob feels about Iona?
Are there times when Callum has to choose between his friends? How does Rob’s view of Iona change?

Text connections

Anne fine The Angel of Nitshill Road

How the arrival of Celeste stops that rule of Barry the bully

Jacqueline Wilson The Lottie Project

Charlie dreams up the character of Lottie to make her project on the Victorians more interesting and a whole new world comes to life in her head.

Louis Sachar There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom

The main character Bradley is a bully who finds life less painful if everyone hates him. But the arrival of Jeff, and a young counsellor Carla start to change things.

Global links

Iris migrates to The Gambia in Africa and Callum, Rob and Euan track her progress via the satellite transmitter that Hamish has attached to her. When the signal is lost Callum resorts to emailing every organisation he can think of in The Gambia to ask them to look for Iris. His plea is answered and from the rescue of Iris comes a plan to help Jeneba, a local girl who is in hospital with two broken legs. They raise the money to fly her to Scotland for an essential operation.

Are there similarities between life in The Gambia and that in Scotland? Are there differences? How are the attitudes of adults to Jeneba different from those to Iona?

Text connections

Beverley Naidoo The Other Side of Truth

Two African children arrive in London and are labelled as ‘asylum seekers’. Floella Benjamin Coming to England
A memoir of the author coming over to England as a young girl.

Elizabeth Laird The Garbage King

About the lives of street children in Addis Ababa 

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