A Review of “In Her Element”

Daniel Garbutt is Head of English at Bradfields Academy – a special educational needs school in Chatham (Kent) for children with complex learning disabilities and difficulties including speech, language, emotional, sensory, physical and autistic spectrum disabilities. Here, he reviews “In Her Element”, one of Pop Up’s 10 Stories to Make a Difference. The book, by Jamila Gavin and Jacinta Read, is about a girl with cerebral palsy who dreams of swimming with whales. 


From the very first page we are treated to a lavish description of character and location that really paints a vivid picture with words.  Sophie is such an endearing character from the outset; there is a calmness about her personality that creeps gently out of the pages.  She is not angry or bitter about her circumstances nor apathetic about her life in general – rather, she is a positive and strong young woman with the wonderful power of imagination as her companion through her life.  There is such a massive connection between Sophie and the ocean throughout the story that the two have almost a symbiotic relationship where the vast, incomprehensible deepness of the waters act as a metaphor for her unspoken thoughts and feelings and a voice that cannot be truly heard.  The story encapsulates the lack of control in life of a special needs individual. 

We are a special needs academy and we have many students like Sophie. There were parts of the story that not only resonated with our students but nearly identically matched situations that they had been in with family, friends and society as a whole.  The ending of the story was beautiful – students listened with baited breath and worried frowns on their faces as I read the story aloud.  The elemental link caused much discussion and the story itself was beautifully crafted, poignant and filled with a pathos that was matched only by the idea that hope is often our strongest ally in life.


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