Note from the Author
I grew up in a big family in a small, steep town overlooking the River Tyne, in England.
It was a place of ancient coal mines, dark terraced streets, strange shops, new real estate development, and wild heather hills. Our lives were filled with mysterious and unexpected events, and the place and its people have given me many of my stories. I always wanted to be a writer, though I told very few people until I was "grown-up." Writing can be difficult, but sometimes it really does feel like a kind of magic.
I think stories are living things—among the most important things in the world.
Michael feels lonely and isolated when his family moves to a dilapidated old house in a new neighborhood. Now his baby sister is gravely ill, and Dr. Death sends her to the hospital. Paralyzed with fear that his sister might die, Michael wanders into a rundown garage in the backyard and discovers Skellig, a filthy and pale creature lying beneath spiderwebs and dead flies. Is he a human being or a strange kind of beast? The only person Michael can confide in is his new friend, Mina. Together, they carry Skellig out into the light and Michael's world changes forever.
1. Michael is very unhappy at the beginning of the novel. Discuss how Michael's life changes after he discovers Skellig and meets Mina. Think about ways that you deal with fear and loneliness. How can you help a friend who appears unhappy?
2. Almond never gives the reader a specific description of Skellig. Based on the glimpses of Skellig found throughout the novel, what is your impression of Skellig? How might Michael describe Skellig at the end of the novel?
3. Michael brushes his hands against Skellig's back and detects what appear to be wings. When he asks his mother about shoulder blades, she answers, "They say that shoulder blades are where your wings were when you were an angel . . . where your wings will grow again one day." What does this statement reveal about Skellig?
4. When Michael questions why Skellig eats living things and makes pellets like an owl, Mina answers, "We can't know. Sometimes we just have to accept that there are things we can't know." Why is this an important moment in the novel?
5. When Michael's soccer teammates discover his friendship with Mina, they begin teasing him. How does this affect Michael's relationship with them? Why do you think they make fun of Mina? How does she handle the teasing? How would you handle the situation if your classmates made fun of a special friend?
6. Discuss Michael's relationship with his mother and father. How does the baby's illness put a strain on these relationships? How is Michael's relationship with his parents different from Mina's relationship with her mother?
7. At the same time that his sister is undergoing heart surgery, Michael discovers that Skellig is gone. Mina calms Michael by quoting William Blake: "[Blake] said the soul was able to leap out of the body for a while and then leap back again. He said it could be caused by great fear or enormous pain. Sometimes it was because of too much joy. It was possible to be overwhelmed by the presence of so much beauty in the world." Why do you think Mina quoted this passage to Michael? How are fear and pain related? How are joy and beauty related? How does Skellig represent all these qualities?
8. What does the nurse mean when she describes Michael's baby sister as having a "heart of fire"? Why does Michael want to name the baby Persephone? Why is Joy an appropriate name for her? What other names might symbolize her journey and her place in the world?
9. Skellig returns for one last visit with Michael and Mina. What do you think is Skellig's purpose for entering Michael's life? How does he touch other lives? Do you think he'll ever return?
David Almond grew up in a small town in England. He has been a mailman, a brush salesman, an editor, and a teacher. He won the Printz Honor and, in the U.K., the Whitbread Award and the Carnegie Medal for Skellig. David Almond lives with his family in Newcastle, England.