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Book Review

Skellig by David Almond has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Ten-year-old Michael and his family move into a dilapidated house about the same time Michael's sister is born with a heart defect. As Michael rummages through the crumbling, junk-ridden garage, he discovers a gaunt, grumpy man living there. The man asks for aspirin for his arthritis and for 27 and 53, which Michael learns are items on a Chinese take-out menu. Though the man considers 27 and 53 — along with brown ale — the food and nectar of the gods, he also eats spiders and other dead bugs. As Michael helps him, Michael places his hands on the man's shoulder blades, and they feel odd to him. Michael also meets Mina, a home-schooled neighbor girl, who is fascinated with birds and the poet William Blake.

Michael's science teacher begins discussing evolution, and Michael wonders if people really came from apes. He also begins to ponder the purpose of shoulder blades as he thinks of the strange man still hidden in his family's garage. His mother offers a theory that shoulder blades are where a person's wings were when he or she was an angel.

Still struggling to survive, Michael's baby sister is in and out of the hospital, hooked up to wires and tubes. His mom stays with her when she is in the hospital, while his dad distracts himself by fixing up the house.

As Mina and Michael become friends, Mina shares her outspoken views on traditional education, evolution and many other topics. She shows Michael a group of owls living in an abandoned house her family owns. He decides to tell her about the man in his garage.

While visiting his mom and sister in the hospital, Michael asks various medical personnel about cures for arthritis. When he takes Mina to meet the man in the garage, he brings cod-liver oil capsules with him, as the doctor suggested. He and Mina decide that before the garage falls on the man and his bones calcify, they should move the man to Mina's property with the owls. Once he is relocated, the man finally tells them that his name is Skellig. They discover he has wings, and they see him eating food gathered for him by the owls. When they ask what he is, he tells them he's something like them, something like a beast, something like a bird and something like an angel. Skellig, Mina and Michael hold hands in a circle and are briefly able to float on ghostly wings that rise from their shoulder blades.

Michael's sister nearly dies and has to undergo heart surgery. Michael stays with Mina while he waits for news. The kids go to the abandoned house but can't find Skellig. They later learn Michael's mother had a vision of Skellig in the hospital holding the baby and giving her strength. The baby lives. Skellig appears to the kids one last time and thanks them for helping him live again. They float together once more on their mystical wings, and Skellig says goodbye. Michael and his parents name the baby Joy.

Christian Beliefs

Michael's parents tell him to keep praying for the baby, but he doesn't know what to pray.

Other Belief Systems

Michael learns stories from Greek mythology in school and from Mina's mom. The book includes many references to evolution and affirms its factuality. When Michael's teacher is first explaining the transitional phases between apes and humans, he says maybe people will go on changing forever. Mina often echoes the sentiment that evolution will never end. Michael draws an ape skeleton in class and tells a man on the bus that it is a picture of what we used to be like a long time ago.

Michael asks his mom why people have shoulder blades. She says shoulder blades are where your wings were when you were an angel and where they'll grow again one day. Mom speculates that the baby has never quite left heaven and never made it entirely to earth. Mina tells Michael that evolution isn't a matter of belief but a proven fact. She says his mother's shoulder-blade theory is a proven fact as well. She tells him about pneumatization, or the presence of air cavities within the bone, and says they are the result of evolution. Over millions of years, birds have developed this anatomy, allowing them to fly. She also shares her theory about the archaeopteryx, a descendant of the dinosaur whose evolution resulted in birds.

Mina tells Michael we have to be ready to move forward; since there's no end to evolution, we may not be this way forever. Mina says William Blake thought we were surrounded by angels and spirits that we could only see if we took the effort to open our eyes a little wider. After Michael blacks out, Mina tells him Blake used to faint sometimes. Blake felt the soul was able to leap out of the body for a while, then leap back in. Michael thanks Skellig for making the baby's body strong, but Skellig says she gave him strength.

Authority Roles

Michael's parents are preoccupied with their new daughter's illness. His dad tries to help Michael through the transition by letting the boy stay home from school and fix up their house with him. While his mom is in the hospital with the baby, they eat Chinese take-out nearly every night. As a home-school teacher, Mina's mother tries to give her daughter the freedom to explore the outdoors, develop her senses, create with clay and learn in other nontraditional ways. She often shares her knowledge of science and poetry with Michael as well as Mina, and she makes him feel at home while his parents are at the hospital.


Words such as crap and d--n appear a few times. The British curse word bloody is used many times, sometimes followed by h---. The phrase get stuffed (the British equivalent of the f-word and off) appears once.



Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

Secretive/deceptive behavior: Mina and Michael often sneak into an abandoned house owned by Mina's family to visit Skellig. Sometimes they do this at night. When caught, Michael lies and tells his dad he was sleepwalking. A sign on the door says "danger," but Mina says it's just to keep out vandals. Michael sneaks his dad's beer and medical items, such as aspirin and cod-liver oil tablets, to Skellig.

Alcohol/Tobacco use: The baby's doctor, whom Michael calls Dr. Death, smokes cigarettes. His dad drinks a beer or two with a meal. Skellig drinks beer whenever Michael brings it to him.

Educational philosophy: Mina's mother home-schools her. Mina is arrogant and outspoken in her belief that traditional schools stifle curiosity, creativity and intelligence.

Mary: A woman in the hospital tells Michael that prayers to Our Lady have helped her deal with her arthritis.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up




David Almond






Record Label



Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House. Inc.


On Video

Year Published



Printz Honor Book (YALSA), 2000; Carnegie Medal, 1998; Whitbred Children's Book of the Year, 1998


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