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'Nightjar' by the brilliant Katya Balen is a beautiful and sensitive short story, full of care and wonder for ourselves and the natural world. Balen and illustrator Richard Johnson are a perfect match: wise and gentle words breathe and ponder alongside tender and startling sketches. Barrington Stoke continues to publish such thoughtful and engaging books in short form. 

When Noah's dad visits from New York, he and Noah come across an injured nightjar during a walk in the countryside. Noah is determined to save the bird, but his dad believes they should leave it alone to let nature take its course. As father and son argue, can they find a way to build a new relationship and rediscover the common ground between them?

Balen seems to capture so much in so little words so beautifully. Noah's sense of awe and compassion for nature, particularly for birds, is the pulse of the narrative. Nature is presented as a wild and enchanting mystery - and the nightjar perfectly encompasses that sense of feeling through Noah's eyes. The contrast with his New York city-living dad is stark and so well-realised; their relationship is equally wild and mysterious and difficult. Both father and son are stubborn, but there is magic in their softening.


There are deep questions here for readers: when is it right to let a life go - what do we cling on to and nurture? The book holds such a power that it brought back a memory of when I was about Noah's age. I had a garden that backed onto some woods and I once accidentally disturbed a nest. I remember feeling a sense of horror, wonder and an urge to make amends when I heard a cacophony of little tweets. Somehow 'Nightjar' captures that complicated, messy, wild feeling so deeply. Is it a feeling we lose when we grow-up? 

'Nightjar' is just lovely. A perfect little book for reluctant but curious readers.

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