Jack Fortune and the search for the Hidden Valley by Sue Purkiss
Alma Books, 2018. ISBN 9781846884283
(Age: Primary 8+) Highly recommended. Themes: Adventure, Orphans, Botany. Sue Purkiss drew inspiration from the British botanist Joseph Banks and the 'plant hunters' who ventured across the globe often in dangerous situations to search of rare vegetation, seeds and cuttings. In Jack Fortune and the search for the Hidden Valley, a young orphan boy travels with his Uncle Edmund to the Himalayas in a difficult and dangerous quest. This is reminiscent of a Boy's Own adventure, filled with quintessentially British characters who learn to rely on each other and develop mettle in the face of challenges.
When Jack is orphaned he's sent to live with his Aunt Constance, who despairs of his boyish pranks and mischievous actions. She's promised his mother that Jack won't be sent off to boarding school, so Uncle Edmund is called in to help deal with the situation. His uncle is a naturalist about to embark on a plant gathering mission to the foothills of the Himalayas and he reluctantly agrees to take him along. Jack finds solace drawing in his father's sketchbook, touching the picture of his mother's face. These secret skills become very important as he records their travels, the plant specimens they discover and the myths and customs of the people he encounters on his journey to the hidden valley.
Along the way they meet with a maharajah, journey with Sherpas and deal with monks who guard the sacred mountain, all the while maintaining their very British habits. Through Jack's eyes we see the wonder of others' lifestyles. He observes the young monks at the monastery and hangs a prayer flag before he starts his search for the blue rhododendron. Resilience, courage, overcoming grief and growing in self-worth develop within Jack along the way.
The author creates scenes rich with imagery, colourful landscapes and adds a quirky and interesting mix of characters. Jack Fortune and the search for the Hidden Valley is an enthralling read, opening up a new historical horizons.