Children’s Book Review: A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll cover showing an illustration of a girl with crazy pink and blue hair

Some books transcend age classification and A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll falls resolutely into this category. In this Own Voices novel, we follow 11-year-old Addie as she learns about the history of witch trials in her village and strives to commerate these misunderstood women with a memorial. Addie has particular reason to identify with the persecuted because she is autistic and experiences bullying on a daily basis. Elle McNicoll has not only written a cracking story, but also shared her neurodiverse experiences through Addie – making this one of the stand-out middle-grade books for 2020.

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A KIND OF SPARK tells the story of 11-year-old Addie as she campaigns for a memorial in memory of the witch trials that took place in her Scottish hometown. Addie knows there’s more to the story of these ‘witches’, just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, and make her voice heard?

An Authentic Neurodiverse Perspective

There’s so much to rave about in A Kind of Spark – the writing, the characterisation and the portrayal of persecution but the insight in autism is the one that elevates this into the must-have category. Elle McNicoll expresses the way her mind works so well through the main character Addie and her older sister, Keedie. While reading, I realised I had a ton of misconceptions about neurodiverse perceptions and behaviours which desperately needed adjusting. I won’t go into detail here, but I suspect that many will share many of my incorrect assumptions. For this reason alone – and believe it’s not the only reason to read the book – A Kind of Spark deserves a place on your bookshelf

Witch Trials

The unjust demonisation of women during the witch trials of the 1600s is well known, but A Kind of Spark presents these tragic events from a neurodivergent angle. Why were these community members targeted? Was it because they saw the world through a different lens? The author captures their isolation so effectively through Addie’s imagination that I felt an emotional connection with the executed women. This is reinforced in the fictional present day, with Addie and Keedie as they try to make their voices heard. I also enjoyed the suggestion that Addie’s heightened awareness of her surroundings gave her a special ability, a kind of magic spark which connects brilliantly with the witchy theme.

Acceptance and Friendship

Addie and Keedie encounter a lot of prejudice in the book which makes their quiet stoicism all the more admirable. We see the extreme effort that they have to exert every single day just to fit into the system, let alone deal with intolerant schoolmates, councillors and teachers. The fear of neurodiversity doesn’t just lie in the past, it’s endemic today. Luckily for our characters, they have each other as well as friends in the community (and now us), but getting through every day is still a struggle. By telling Addie’s story, Elle McNicoll shows us how best to support neurodivergent friends and colleagues.

My overriding reaction to A Kind of Spark was more please! Elle McNicoll is a gifted writer who almost didn’t submit her book for publication. Happily she eventually plucked up the courage to mention it to inclusive publisher Knights Of who snapped it up and shared Addie’s important story with households and schools all across Britain. It’s time for Own Voices to be heard.

  • Format: Paperback
  • 192 pages
  • ISBN : 9781913311056
  • Publisher : Knights Of (4 Jun. 2020)
  • Age: 9+

Buy A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll | Amazon

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