Illustrated by Marie-Alice Harel
For ages 9+
Huge welcome to everyone reading this who found me today via the Chicken House Books Blog Tour! Lovely to see you! This is such an earthly and heartfelt middle grade fiction book for kids, I'm so happy to share my book review with you all. Hopefully you'll feel inspired to borrow a copy from your library or purchase a copy from your local bookshop.
From times past comes forth a debut fiction novel that is from Townsend's heart, lived experience, personal interest and belief. The best types of books are either those that teach you more about yourself or give you a more in-depth knowledge about a subject you knew little of beforehand. The plant knowledge in this story puts most of us to shame, I'm sure. I don't know about you, but I gratefully take my NHS/big Pharma industry medications without so much as a scrap of knowledge as to their provenance, of the properties and habitats of the plants and the history of the healers who cultivated medicines and cures so many moons ago.
About the story
A lonely human soul, 12 year-old Orla lives in a simple wooden shed in her garden away from the rest of her water-side rural village of Thorn Creek. She's grumpy, stubborn, closed, hurt, conflicted...and she has a lot to live up to. Her Ma has recently passed on from a mysterious deadly sickness and with her was lost a vast knowledge and understanding of the healing and harmful powers of plants, lost, apart from what she recorded in her book, now in the hands of her daughter - her successor. Orla is awkward and bitter, she hasn't been able to grieve, not even allowed to bury her Ma herself, she doesn't even know where her grave is. Feeling that it is on her shoulders to continue her Ma's legacy to care for people, she hides away, snaps at passers by, and apart from her horse Captain, only has the plants to talk to. However, in her case, they talk back...
Thorn Creek is governed over by a wealthy ink-manufacturing family, whose head is one Inishowen Atlas, Warden and resident of Hind House. His widowed sister and her daughter, Ariana live with him. Before the sickness came, Ariana was once a friend to Orla, as her Ma used the laboratory at Hind House to experiment with and create cures and treatments. Her last mission was to find the cure for the mysterious Mapafoglia (the map of leaves), which day by day draws a purple map over the body, causing a fever and ultimately death; a sickness that not only causes harm to humans, but also to plants. The Warden, Atlas, is an unpleasant and greedy man, who puts his financial gains before the welfare of his charges. Together with his loyal henchmen of burly and fearsome haulers, the river tradesmen, he commands respect and obedience resulting in a power to deceive and decide the fate of innocent and vulnerable townsfolk.
Things go from bad to worse and the sickness is out of control. All plants and crops are to be destroyed, at the orders of the Warden for according to him, it is Mother Nature to blame. On hearing this and knowing her precious garden will be destroyed, her only friends and memories of her Ma, a desperate Orla feels that it is up to her to find the source of the malady, to find the cure her Ma was so close to achieving before she took her last breath. She sets off on an adventure up river that is dangerous, exhausting, hopeless, and is ultimately a race against time before everything left in her life she cares about dies.
In this rebirthing story, Orla finds friends, kindred spirits, learns to trust and care for others just has her Ma had done. She reconnects with her Ma spiritually through her journey to find the cure for Mapafoglia, so much of what had been a mystery, broken memories and confusion becomes clear and much like the purpose of her quest, she herself is healed and has space amongst nature's "dancing blooms" to grieve. The truth is at last revealed. The bravery of a Orla and her friends has given rise to wisdom, hope and a safe home for the villagers and the plants to live together in harmony.
Townsend includes excerpts from Orla's Ma's precious book at the start of each chapter, teaching the reader about a different plant and its properties relevant to the story each time. Aside from providing us oxygen to breathe, Townsend reminds the reader that Earth's plants provide us with clothes to wear, nets to fish with, shelter from storms, medicine and more, yet - "How do we shelter plants and keep them from harm in return?"
I will never forget Orla's story and the underlying legacy and importance of female healers and wise-women, as some of the founders of modern medicine who were victims and occasionally survivors of such prejudice and ignorance that governments are only now, after hundreds of years, starting to issue formal pardons and apologies.
Writing book reviews always inspires me to do some research of my own. If you are planning to read this to a class or in a book club, then perhaps you'd be interested in the links below for some further reading:
Saints and Sinners: Women and the Practice of Medicine Throughout the Ages (JAMA, 2020)
Women’s Business: 17th-Century Female Pharmacists (Science History Institute, 2009)
About the creators
Yarrow Townsend (author)
Yarrow Townsend spent her childhood among the moss, oak and heather of the New Forest. After working as a teacher, and then as a stablehand, Yarrow completed an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University, before returning to the forest to work for the RSPB. Always in search of ways to be closer to the outdoors, Yarrow now lives on a narrowboat, travelling the canals with her garden on the roof. The Map of Leaves is inspired by her life by the woods and the water, and by her own parents’ herb books.
Marie-Alice Harel (illustrator)
Marie-Alice Harel is an award-winning French author and illustrator based in Edinburgh, Scotland. She designs and illustrates books for readers of all ages. Her work, mostly traditional (water-colour, pencils and ink) is regularly exhibited in galleries in the UK, the USA and France.
Buy the book!
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Publication date: 5 May 2022
Format: Kindle e-book
Publication date: 5 May 2022
Notable praise for 'The Map of Leaves':
‘A striking new voice and a thrilling, beautiful, important book, full of characters I will never forget.’ NATASHA FARRANT
‘Just finished this breathless marvel and there's so much to love about it. Wild and imaginative storytelling, it introduces us to talking oaks, poisonous rock and a central character with a lot to prove.’ FLEUR HITCHCOCK
‘Fast-paced and highly original, a story urging us to listen to what the plants have to tell us. I love fierce Orla and all the details and characters of the plants.’ GILL LEWIS
“I loved how close to the land this is, fingers trailing through leaves & seedpods & in swirling river water, as Orla & her new friends search for a cure for a sickness that's spreading through the natural world. Wild & bewitching story by debut writer”
*Chicken House Books provided me with a review copy of 'The Map of Leaves'.
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