i‑Learner Education Centre

Teacher Diaries

Teacher Diaries: Ms. Willow – From Book to Book

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

I read this book when it first came out twenty years ago. I was utterly gripped by the story of a girl in a parallel world to our own whose soul is an animal that changes to reflect how she feels. The story is quite a serious one for a book that’s aimed at younger readers, and it excited me to be reading about such big topics and to follow Lyra, the main character, on her adventures across the world as she tries to save the people she loves.

I read the rest of the books in the trilogy as soon as they came out, and I still enjoy them today. In fact, I have an audiobook version of the series at home, which is narrated by the author, and which I listen to regularly. The language in these books is so packed with beautiful descriptions that the reader can easily imagine that they are part of this world.

I always recommend this book to students who enjoy Harry Potter. The book is aimed at about the same age of reader, but it introduces children to more serious and challenging themes. This book is very popular in the UK and US. There is even a film of it, and the BBC is making a TV series of it which should be coming out next year.

Take a look at the start of the first scene to get a feel for this wonderful book:

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and, seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table. The places here were laid with gold, not silver, and the fourteen seats were not oak benches but mahogany chairs with velvet cushions.

Lyra stopped beside the Master’s chair and flicked the biggest glass gently with a fingernail. The sound rang clearly through the hall.

“You’re not taking this seriously,” whispered her daemon. “Behave yourself.”

Her daemon’s name was Pantalaimon, and he was currently in the form of a moth, a dark brown one so as not to show up in the darkness of the hall.

“They’re making too much noise to hear from the kitchen,” Lyra whispered back. “And the Steward doesn’t come in till the first bell. Stop fussing.”

But she put her palm over the ringing crystal anyway, and Pantalaimon fluttered ahead and through the slightly open door of the Retiring Room at the other end of the dais. After a moment he appeared again.

“There’s no one there,” he whispered. “But we must be quick.”

Crouching behind the high table, Lyra darted along and through the door into the Retiring Room, where she stood up and looked around. The only light in here came from the fireplace, where a bright blaze of logs settled slightly as she looked, sending a fountain of sparks up into the chimney. She had lived most of her life in the College, but had never seen the Retiring Room before: only Scholars and their guests were allowed in here, and never females. Even the maidservants didn’t clean in here. That was the Butler’s job alone.

Pantalaimon settled on her shoulder.

“Happy now? Can we go?” he whispered.