‘For Letta is one of the best heroines I have come across in a book. Steadfast, strong and unwaveringly resilient, she is the driving force behind why this series is becoming so revered.’
Title: Mother Tongue
Author: Patricia Forde (@PatriciaForde1)
Cover illustrator: Elissa Webb
Publisher: Little Island (@LittleIslandBks)
Page count: 224
Date of publication: 12th September 2019
Series status: Second in The Wordsmith series (Standalone)
Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7.
1. Words 🔤
2. Missing ❌
3. Heroine 💪
After global warming came the Melting. Then came Ark.
The new dictator of Ark wants to silence speech for ever. But Letta is the wordsmith, tasked with keeping words alive. Out in the woods, she and the rebels secretly teach children language, music and art.
Now there are rumours that babies are going missing. When Letta makes a horrifying discovery, she has to find a way to save the children of Ark – even if it is at the cost of her own life.
With its themes of climate change and global warming, political power, truth versus lies and oppressive regimes, and set in an apocalyptic, dystopian future, you could say that this story has aspects that ring true to a future that isn’t actually that far from home in today’s political climate.
In this stand-alone sequel to The Wordsmith, the new dictator of Ark wants to silence speech for ever. But protagonist Letta, the wordsmith, is tasked with keeping words alive. For Letta is one of the best heroines I have come across in a book. Steadfast, strong and unwaveringly resilient, she is the driving force behind why this series is becoming so revered. As the evolution of language becomes less and less with each generation, Letta fights back against the system. But as she does, she uncovers more discoveries than she could have ever imagined… Will one of these discoveries be the death of her?
Freedom of speech, a world so well realised and a main character with more than a sense of gutsy determination all are on offer for the reader here and it is with all of these at play that readers – both children and adults – should make Mother Tongue one not to be missed of their To Be Read piles. If you’re looking for more, The Wordsmith (Book 1) is a must.
For those intrigued by my review, you can read more in this extract below:
Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
This is the question I get asked most often at school events and it is a difficult question to answer.
Writers are hoarders, I find. We hoard images, snippets of conversation, stories from the local newspaper. This stash of inspiration is kept in our heads or hopefully in a notebook or on a computer file until we need it. When I wrote The Wordsmith the process started with a single image. I imagined a girl, called Letta, working in a shop selling words. I had no idea who she was or why she was selling words but I could see the location clearly. A big wooden counter and behind that rows of pigeon holes. Each pigeon hole held a box and each box held cards. Each card had a word written on it. I could hear Letta’s voice talking to her customers – did they want words for everyday colours or something more elaborate? The standard box had words like blue and black and white in it but the special box had cerise and indigo and violet. Slowly, over days and weeks and months I discovered her story. She wasn’t selling words, she was distributing them. She was distributing them because by law people were only allowed to have five hundred words. Show don’t tell, everyone said, so I set about showing this strange law in action.
In the first chapter of The Wordsmith we see Letta’s master learning that from now on citizens of Ark will be given a list of five hundred words and they are the only words they are allowed to use.
Writers, by and large, are divided into those who plan their novels and those who do not. I belong in the latter camp. My challenge with The Wordsmith was to uncover this strange world, why it came to be, why language was rationed and what my protagonist was going to do about it.
Standing back from it now, I can see where some of the ideas came from. My father had a shop in Galway, where I was born and still live. I was used to the world of the counter and of customers coming and going. I speak Irish, a language now under threat with an ever-diminishing list of words in daily usage, and I was concerned about global warming. As I dug for my story all of those things influenced me and shaped the ultimate narrative.
Mother Tongue continues the story and puts us back in the world of Ark. When I tried to imagine Letta, after the first story finished, I saw her in a field teaching children. That brought me straight back to the history I had learnt in school.
After the accession of William and Mary in the 1690’s, the education of Catholics in Ireland was expressly forbidden under the Penal Laws. As a result an underground system of ‘hedge schools’ sprang up across the country. They were so called because the classes were often convened under the shelter of hedges or in stables or barns. The teacher risked life and limb but the children received an education in the Irish language, reading, writing and arithmetic.
And so, in the first chapter of Mother Tongue we find Letta teaching in a hedge school.
Another strong storyline in Mother Tongue is about the disappearance of babies. Amelia, the new ruler of Ark, is carrying out an experiment. If children never hear language will it follow that they will never speak?
Babies were very much in the news as I was writing. In March 2017, the Irish commission of investigation into Mother and Baby Homes announced that the remains of 796 infants had been found in Tuam buried on the site of a former institution for unmarried mothers. The remains of the children had been placed in an old septic tank.
Tuam is about twenty-five miles from where I live. The country was in shock.
And then, in the United States, we heard of families being separated at the Mexican border. Most of these people were from Central America and the campaign was designed to deter families hoping to immigrate to the United States. Babies were taken from their mother’s arms and placed in foster care.
The youngest child separated from his family, Baby Constantin, was four months old. I hoarded the image of Constantin with his deep brown eyes and long eyelashes.
Where do you get your ideas from? You get them from life, your own life and the lives of others, and you try to make sense of them by putting them into stories.
Mother Tongue is dedicated to the memory of the Tuam babies and to all children without a voice.
Patricia Forde is from Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. Her first novel THE WORDSMITH was published to great critical acclaim in 2015. It has since been published in the United States, Australia, Denmark, Russia, Turkey and the Netherlands. It has won a White Raven Award from the International Youth Library, is an American Library Association Notable Book for Children in the United States, and was shortlisted for the Children’s Book of the Year Award in Ireland. In 2018 Patricia wrote BUMPFIZZLE THE BEST ON PLANET EARTH, which was chosen as the Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read 2019. MOTHER TONGUE, the sequel to THE WORDSMITH, has just been published in 2019 by Little Island Books. She is married to Padraic and has two grown up children. She still lives in Galway, her favourite city in the world. You can visit her at www.patriciaforde.com, find her on twitter @PatriciaForde1 and on Instagram @TrishForde1.
Founded by Ireland’s first Children’s Laureate, Siobhán Parkinson, Little Island Books has been publishing books for children and teenagers since 2010. It is Ireland’s only English-language publisher that publishes exclusively for young people. Little Island specialises in publishing new Irish writers and illustrators, and also has a commitment to publishing books in translation. In 2019 Little Island was the Irish winner of the inaugural Small Press of the Year award from The Bookseller magazine. You can find them online at www.littleisland.ie, and on Twitter and Instagram at @LittleIslandBks.
Big thank to Patricia, Matthew and all the team at Little Island Books for inviting me to be a part of the wonderful Mother Tongue blog tour and for sending me an advance copy of the book.
Extra thanks to Patricia for writing such a fascinating guest post!