Friday, June 3, 2022

A Dream of Trinidad

Zo and the Forest of Secrets by Alake Pilgrim (Knights Of, 2022)

When Zo decides to run away from home, she is thrown into a dreamscape of the island she thought she knew: Trinidad is at once dripping with beauty and burgeoning with a dark, new-found mystery and magic. 

Zo and the Forest of Secrets is a magic-realist novel, perfect for readers of 10+.The plot whirls from one fantastic vista to the next - the pace is fast! - and the drama and brilliance never lets up. Alake Pilgrim's extraordinarily rich evocation of the island is one of the book's many strengths: within the first few pages, the reader is transported to a bustling Trinidadian market place then in the twinkling of an eye, the scene shifts, a supernatural haze is cast, and from that moment on, nothing is quite as it seems. 

There are occasional moments of pause for reflection as echoes of ecological unrest flicker across the scene. For me, the impact of these parts was made particularly striking, given that they appear amidst a whirlwind of colour and noise, and  impressing on the reader their importance - young readers will find as much for them to think about as they will to gasp at and that astonishes them. Finally, comes the cliffhanger which poses the possibility that this book is to be the first in a series promising more thrills and more secrets. And that is good news for us all indeed!

Alake Pilgrim


Whenever I read a book that really connects with me, I always want to talk about it and that is part of the great pleasure and purpose of my reading. With this in mind, I hope the following prompts are useful to help children (and their grown-ups) to explore Alake's wonderful novel together and that you all enjoy reading Zo and the Forest of Secrets as much as I have.

The Setting

  • Where is Trinidad? Find pictures of places in Trinidad and make a collection of them. 
  • Make a list of the animals, birds, fruits, plants that are named in the book. Find pictures of them.  
The Characters
  • Make a list of all the main characters. Which one would you like to spend the day with? Why? 
  • Zo and Adri are the book's two main characters. How are they different...and how are they similar?
  • Are there any characters you would like to know more about? If you could meet the author, what would you ask her about them? 
Magic and Mystery
  • The book is full of strange creatures and magic. Which is the most terrifying monster in the book, in your opinion? Say TWO things that make it more scary than any of the others.
  • Cap'n Peg has a very unique way of speaking. Make a list of some of her best sayings. 
  • Cap'n Peg adds a touch of humour to the story. How does the humour add to the story?
  • Some readers might describe this novel as 'magic realism'. Which bits of the book are 'real' and which are 'magical'? Which parts feel like magic has got into the everyday? Which parts seem that everyday life on the island has got some magic in it?
Alake's Words
  • Look at the first line of the book. What makes this a good opening sentence? 
  • This novel is very visual - it has a lot of descriptions of the setting and the landscapes that Zo encounters. Why do you think Alake has written it in this way? 
  • Do you like that the chapters have all got one-word titles? Is one word enough? 
  • Although the story is fast paced and extremely dramatic, there are moments where Zo reflects on environmental damage and risk. Which of these parts do you remember most clearly? Why do you think you remember these parts? 
Zo and the Forest of Secrets, published by Knights Of, was out on 2nd June, priced £7.99. Do support your local independent bookshop where you can!

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