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Arts / Island above all others provides inspiration for children’s book

UNST has many claims to fame – Britain’s most northerly island, the location for a possible space port, for instance – and now it is the setting for a new children’s book.

The island plays a key role in Julia and the Shark, which is written by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave and acclaimed artist Tom de Freston.

It follows the character Julia as she moves with her parents to live in Unst for the summer – her dad is there to work on the lighthouse; her mother, on a determined mission to find the elusive ‘Greenland shark’.

But when her mother’s obsession threatens to “submerge them all, Julia finds herself on an adventure with dark depths and a lighthouse full of hope”.

“All the action of the story happens on Unst, and the seas and skies surrounding it,” Millwood Hargrave said.

So why was Unst chosen as the setting? “We adore islands, and reading about Unst and Shetland, we were swept away by the remoteness and tales from this place, and inspired by the community clearly present,” she replied.

“We were interested in telling a story about communities and new friendships, about extraordinary landscapes and clear night skies.

“We needed somewhere with access to the sea, to incredible wildlife, and a place safe enough for children to go out on their bikes and have adventures – Unst offered all this and more.”

De Freston said the couple were keen to visit Shetland, but coronavirus regulations put paid to their plans.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston.

“We were desperate to get to Shetland before the book was finished, but unfortunately lockdown meant we had to rely on our imaginations, research, and Google Maps,” he said.

“It’s of course no substitute, and we are planning a trip there in the next couple of months.”

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The pair hope that the book “ignites a deeper engagement with the natural world, and helps start conversations about well-being and empathy”.

“It’s told through words and pictures, and as such works on lots of levels – we hope it’s a book you can read again and again,” Millwood Hargrave said.

“Some of the main themes are things so many of us deal with, but often don’t have the language to express – mental health, bullying, wonder, hope. It’s also an adventure story, where children are allowed to take the lead and be the heroes.”

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