Between Sea and Sky by Nicola Penfold

Happy Book Birthday Nicola!

We are really excited to be taking part in the fabulous blog tour for this absolutely brilliant book, Between the Sea and Sky!

Taking time to read this book is to take time to peer into a plausible and not too distant horizon. It is full of hope and a deep respect for the natural world, but it is a thought-provoking warning of the future we might have to endure if we don’t change.

In a near future where a series of environmental disasters has left much of the country underwater, Pearl lives on a floating oyster farm with her father and younger sister, Clover. Following her mum’s death several years earlier, Pearl refuses to set foot on land, believing her illness was caused by the poisons in the ground. Meanwhile, Clover dreams of school, friends and a normal life.

Then Nat comes to spend the summer at the sea farm while his scientist mum conducts some experiments. Leaving behind the mainland, with its strict rules and regulations, he brings with him a secret. But when the sisters promise to keep his secret safe, little do they realize that they may be risking everything…

There is a beautiful rhythm to Between Sea and Sky, like the ebb and flow of life on water. Chapters are told by two of our protagonists, the story moving to and fro as the perspectives change. ‘Landlubber’ Nat and ‘sea witch’ Pearl, tell their story revealing their hopes and fears; understanding and respect for each other growing as the story unfurls.

Nat lives on the land, a world of fear and rules, mistrust of nature and heightened anxiety. His life is governed by draconian laws and rules which sees adults taken to the prison ships for accruing to many civil disobedience points. Pearl’s life at sea looks like freedom, a stone’s throw from Nat’s compound home, in a place where the rules don’t quite reach. But she too is trapped by fear and responsibility, she escapes to the freedom of the water to wash away her troubles, and passes them to the sea in her ‘wishing’ rituals. Her sister Clover is a free spirit, and longs for a life away from the sea farm, with school, friends and a future.

I loved reading Between Sea and Sky. I was completely hooked by the engaging and tenacious characters – I loved their steadfast and resolute determination to overcome what seem like impossible challenges. It was unnerving to see a plausible not too distant future that could be a world that my children or grandchildren inhabit. It’s a world in which the climate crisis has done it’s worst – Penfold has brilliantly followed the lines of trajectory from where we are now to imagine this worryingly possible dystopian nightmare.

All that being said, this is a very hopeful read – despite the fragility of the natural world, life and hope do find a way back. This is an immersive and mesmerising read, a perfect middle grade read that children with a heart for the environment will adore. The cover art by Kate Forrester is absolutely beautiful!

We asked Nicola to write a letter to a child born today reflecting on the climate and natural themes of Between the Sea and Sky. She writes…

To a child born on July 8th 2021. To be opened on your 13th birthday.

You were born amidst a global pandemic. Around the world, governments were scrambling to form new paths, to bring their countries out of COVID restrictions. But the bigger threat wasn’t so easy to fix. The climate and biodiversity crisis was growing bigger, more catastrophic. We were running out of time. Most often it was young people who were sounding the alarm call.

Did we act fast enough?

You’re 13 years old now, a teenager. The same age as two children, Pearl and Nat, in book I wrote once, that’s as old as you.

I hope you’re not having to miss school, to protest and strike for your planet. I hope governments, policy makers and big businesses have stepped up to their responsibilities, and brought about huge and lasting changes. I hope it happened in time. That we didn’t reach dangerous tipping points. That you can look to the future with hope, not fear.

I hope you feel the wonder of the natural world every single day. That you use it like a balm in hard times, for I know there will still be hard times. Take yourself to the woods in those times. Find solace in the trees and experience the drama that unfolds there – the dawn chorus in spring, the quiet hum of insects in summer, leaves falling on your shoulders in October, snowdrops and aconites as a new year begins. I hope the ancient woods are still all there, teeming with life and mystery, and I hope, deeply, for new woods too. Huge vast forests and new wild places, coming to life, brimming with it, playing their part in absorbing the greenhouse gas emissions that previous generations allowed to go unchecked.

Some days you will, I hope, walk by the sea. You will swim in it. I hope single use plastic is a thing of a distant past, that you must recoil in horror at. I hope trawling has stopped, replaced with sustainable methods of farming our oceans. I wish for underwater meadows of seagrass and forests of seaweed. I wish for giant swathes of ocean to be protected reserves, where biodiversity is recovering. I wish for our cetaceans – our whales, dolphins, porpoises – to swim untroubled by military sonar. 2

You’ll scarcely believe we once burned oil, gas and coal, that we dug up peat bogs, let pesticides and fertilisers run into the sea, that we cleared whole rainforests to grow palm oil for chocolate and toothpaste, that we did so many terrible, unforgiveable things. Except you will, sadly, believe it, because the evidence will still very much be part of your world. I’m sorry this was what you inherited. It shouldn’t have got this bad. But I hope we woke up in time, that you can see a greener future, where all life can flourish. This is my wish for you.

With hope,

Nicola Penfold

Thank you so much to Nicola for these beautiful and hopeful thoughts – they are truly inspiring.

Find out more about Nicola and her work by visiting her website or following her on Twitter.

Between the Sea and the Sky is published today, 8th July 2021 by Little Tiger Books.

Thank you so much to the brilliant Little Tiger team, and particularly Dannie for inviting us to take part in this fabulous blog tour!

Please do check out the other stops on the tour!

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You can support your local bookseller by getting your copy of Between Sea and Sky from bookshop.org!

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