Review: Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest

I’m going to start this review by happily admitting that I have absolutely LOVED, and eagerly DEVOURED every book Vashti Hardy has published:  Brightstorm, Darkwhispers, Wildspark and The Griffin Gate, and her latest reading treasure is no exception. 

Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest is a fabulously fast-paced, inventive and fun-filled adventure that utterly entranced and delighted me, and is one I can’t wait to share with my class.

Harley Hitch is determined to have a good start on her first day of term, but disaster strikes when she is almost run over, making her both late and dirty!  Not the best of starts, and nor is her first meeting with new boy, Cosmo, since it was his mother who is responsible for her inauspicious start to the term.  To make matters worse, she finds herself being rather reluctantly paired with him to complete an invention challenge set by their teacher, Professor Spark.  Harley is desperate to design the best model as she hopes it will give her an opening to win Pupil of the Term, an accolade she longs to hold.  Her hopes are dashed when, instead of winning, she finds herself in detention alongside Cosmo, and being given a task to complete for their teacher.

They are given an errand to venture into the Iron Forest to get some cogs needed by Professor Spark as the Forest grows these supplies; however, once there, Harley makes a puzzling discovery:  a unique fungus is growing on the trees.  It soon transpires that the fungus is spreading and harming the forest which could prove disastrous for all of Inventia if the supply of machinery parts provided by the forest runs out.  Can Harley and Cosmo find a solution, and re-balance the forest ecology before it is too late?

This is a dazzling adventure, with unexpected twists and turns, that whizzes along as Harley and Cosmo race to save the Iron Forest – with a little help along the way.  Be prepared to meet a giant slug, a robot-dog that everyone will love and want for themselves, and some rather wise metal fish in the Rusty River! 

I loved the world-building which starts as soon as the book is opened with the map of Forgetown.  The world of Inventia is glorious with its hybrid of technology and nature.  I loved that the trees in the Iron Forest grew mechanical supplies and robot parts which the town and city depended on.  There are some wonderful environmental messages threaded throughout with the need to look after and respect the forest; not take more than is needed; and, how introducing new species can affect the delicate balance of nature.

I adored Harley who is the most wonderful young protagonist.  She has her own unique style and is not afraid to be an individual.  She makes mistakes, gets into trouble and is sometimes impetuous, but her heart is in the right place.  She takes risks, is determined to find solutions and admits when she has made mistakes, taking responsibility for her actions:  a brilliant role model!  I definitely have a soft-spot for Cosmo who is much more of a worrier and is more cautious and careful, but he is just what Harley needs!  Their friendship develops naturally, and whilst not without mishaps, they discover what it means to have someone else be there for you:  to listen, learn and trust, and to work together to solve problems. I also really liked the warm relationship between Harley and her two wonderful Grandads.

With themes of friendship, family, resilience, making choices, rights and the environment and STEM components, this is such a treasure trove for both reading for the pleasure to be gained in a fantastic story, and to open up some fascinating discussions.

The partial and full-page illustrations by George Ermos are gorgeous, and capture this wonderful world and its people perfectly.  I have to mention the illustrations in the Star Chatter Observatory which are just sublime! And – there’s a map – enough said!

Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest fizzes with excitement, inventiveness and fun, and is the perfect way to introduce younger readers to the sheer brilliance that is Vashti Hardy!  

Huge thanks to Scholastic for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion. 

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