KAREN McCombie’s emotionally rich novel – continued by its sequel Little Bird Lands – introduces nine-to-12-year-old readers to large and often difficult themes by ensuring they are presented with a human and relatable twist.

Set in 1860s rural Scotland, one could think at first glance that there’s little for modern children to find themselves in, But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Great historical fiction reminds us that people have always been just like us; warm and loving or selfish and secretive in turns, teasing friends, and having their messy hair fussed over by older sisters.

In the fictional Isle of Tornish in Scotland, 12-year-old Bridie has a peaceful and beautiful life. Despite the death of her mother some years ago, the family’s lack of substantial wealth, and the weakened limbs she earned from premature birth which earned her the nickname Little Bird, she has a life full of love.

The character of Bridie or Little Bird narrates every moment from her own perspective, bringing a fresh, youthful voice to deep challenges.

Though her leg is weaker than her best friend Will, she’s memorised the shape of the crags they climb together and can reach the top and the views they provide just as fast – and often faster – than anyone.

This determination of spirit – working with the differences of her body rather than against them – is what defines her exciting, lovable character.

Though she knows and aches for the hurt of those generations past who were forced from their homes by the wealthy and powerful to make room for sheep, there is something in her which resents stillness.

Bridie’s father made a promise to her mother before her death, that neither he nor any of their children would leave their home. She cannot reconcile her respect and adoration for her family and island, with the pull in her heart that longs for adventure to the New World of America.

Though the laird of their land led the Tornish people with fairness, care, and a fondness for her family, everything about their life changes when new powers come into play.

The new laird – with sophisticated friends and women from England – is supposed to provoke excitement, a glimpse of the sparkling elsewhere that Bridie has dreamt of in the back of her mind her entire life.

However, it seems that something is off from the very moment they arrive, with a mysterious lady dressed all in black with them.

Running to the front, the hopeful young protagonist is crushed simply by a look. For one of the few times in her life, she is looked upon as a weak and unremarkable peasant.

As these cruel new leaders bring forth change, bringing up the very remnants of the past her parents were afraid of, Bridie must go up against this.

As she prepares to find her independence and strength in the face of these challenges, and take flight, the reader roots for her at every turn.