Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review of The Giant-Slayer by Iain Lawrence

Lawrence, Iain. The Giant-Slayer. Delacorte Press, 2009.

In 1955, 11-year-old Laurie's best and only friend, 8-year-old Dickie, is stricken with polio and put into an iron lung at the hospital. As she has made up stories all her life and has told stories to and with Dickie since she's known him, Laurie naturally begins to tell a story to him and the two other kids on the iron lung ward.

This is truly an ode to the power of Story. Trapped and immobile as they are, these three very ill kids do not only listen intently - they put their entire souls into the story as it is told, dreaming about it, seeing themselves in various characters, and feeling as if the story might even parallel their own lives and fates. And when Laurie is unable to continue the story, the three even take up the tale and finish it themselves.

And the story Laurie tells? It's about a very small lad named Jimmy, son of a greedy and dishonest innkeeper named Fingal, whose destiny it is (according to the swamp witch) to kill a truly nasty giant. Besides the swamp witch and the giant, there are unicorns and hydras and gnomes and a host of other mythical beasts, as well as a dense and magical wood, some gypsies, and much more. It's small wonder the kids in the iron lungs, as well as the more mobile children on the polio ward, become so entranced.

Meanwhile, the reader becomes entranced with existence on the polio ward. The daily indignities, boredom, and terror of life in an iron lung is described in a matter-of-fact way, and even the narration isn't from Laurie's point of view, the tone is simple, nonjudgmental, and compassionate without ever being soppy. By the end of the book, each child, his or her head the only part sticking out of each huge metal barrel, are integral parts of both stories, real and imaginary.

Although the 50s slang of the children occasionally sounds a little forced, the old-fashioned, open tone of the book reinforces the period feel. This will be an eye-opener to kids (as it was to me) who simply can't imagine being paralyzed or killed by swimming in a pool or playing in a river. For both its masterful narration and its fascinating topic, this is highly recommended for kids in grades 4 to 6.


  1. I was "technical" advisor for Iain as he wrote this book. I, like the children in the story, spent time in an iron lung.

    I enjoyed the transitions between the real life trials of the children and the fantasy adventures of the Giant Slayer.

    This is a great book for children between nine and twelve years old, and for those, like me, who are kids at heart.

    Richard Daggett