Sarah Ann Juckes

The Hunt for the Nightingale
Sarah Ann Juckes

About Author

Sarah Ann Juckes writes books for young people and The Hunt for the Nightingale is her first novel for children.  Her YA debut Outside (Penguin) was nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2020, shortlisted for Mslexia's Children's Novel Award, and longlisted for the Bath Novel Award. Her second YA novel, The World Between Us, was published in March 2021.

She works with writers from all over the world via Jericho Writers and is on the board for Creative Future - a charity supporting underrepresented writers.



The Hunt for the Nightingale (Simon & Schuster Children's Books)

January 2021

Sarah Ann Juckes's powerful middle grade novel is a book about family, loss and the wonder of the natural world. In her video, Sarah Ann tells us more about her book, and how children can make their own books of nature, while in the Q&A, below, we find out more about how The Hunt for the Nightingale was created.

Download a chapter extract from The Hunt for the Nightingale

Q&A with author Sarah Ann Juckes

1. What brought you into writing for children?

I started writing novels when I was a teenager, so I've always maintained a fascination for writing for young people. Some of my favourite books of all time are for children and it's honestly a privilege to be writing and publishing books alongside them.

2. Can you tell us briefly about your new book, The Hunt for the Nightingale?

The Hunt for the Nightingale is a contemporary adventure following nine-year-old Jasper, as he sets out into the wilderness to find his missing sister and lost bird. It's a book about understanding loss in all its forms and Jasper meets people along the way who've all lost their own things. It's also a love letter to the natural world, with plenty of bird facts and beautiful illustrations by Sharon King-Chai.

3. What was the starting point for this story?

This book was inspired by an episode of Springwatch in 2019, where a nightingale had been spotted at a motorway service station. To find something so special in such an unlikely place is such a beautiful metaphor, and Jasper's journey popped immediately into my head.

4. Why did you decide to put a nightingale at the heart of Jasper's journey to find Rosie, his sister?

Grief is a heavy and difficult subject to broach with children, so I wanted to do so alongside something full of love and joy. Nightingales are migratory birds, and so Jasper's understanding of loss is that things always come back. When the nightingale doesn't return that spring - something happening more and more as numbers drop - it sparks Jasper's journey to understanding that not everything lost can be found again in the same way.

5. How much research did you need to do into birds to write the book, or are you already a bird enthusiast?

I've always harboured a love for wildlife, but this book definitely sparked in me a life-long love of birds! I did a huge amount of research for the bird facts, including speaking to experts and trying to find my own nightingale. It was the most exciting book to research and I hope that comes through in the read!

6. Can you share your favourite bird facts?

There are over forty bird facts in the book, but I think my favourite are that no bird on earth is completely silent, and that there are more chickens on earth than there are people!

7. Jasper comes through the story as very real, how did his character develop?

I am a voice writer, meaning that finding the unique way that a person sees the world (and then utilising language to the full to describe it) is hugely important to me. Jasper is based on some elements of myself - particularly his struggle with anxiety. Otherwise, I did a huge amount of character work before starting the novel, including several character questionnaires and sorting him into his Hogwarts house! (He's a Hufflepuff with a Raven Patronus.)

8. Did you map out Jasper's journey to find Rosie, and was it based on somewhere you knew?

The landscape in the book was based around the landscape in East Sussex around Brighton, where I spent a lot of time going on solo walks, training for the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker event I completed in 2015. It includes a tapestry of places I've walked, including woods, river-paths, fields, alleyways through housing estates and the South Downs, too.

9. Jasper meets different people during his journey, did any of the characters - his new friends - stand out for you?

All the people Jasper meets in this book have a special place in my heart! Madge the farmer is based on a farmer I met at an AirBnb, who introduced me to his cows in the same way she does in the book (and helped me conquer my fear, too!) Ibrahim has also always been a key character for me, as I love the dynamic of a friendship between young and old, and how friendship knows no age.

10. Through Jasper's journey and his 'Book of Birds', you explore grief and bereavement. Why did you want to write about these, and did you need to do any research for it?

I had the privilege of being a volunteer for the NSPCC and I met brilliant, brave children who were facing these issues. It's incredibly important that books for children introduce any topic a child may face and I wanted to do this in an accessible, hopeful way. I did a huge amount of research and am grateful for all the advice I received to make this depiction as sensitive as possible.

11. What would you like your readers to take from The Hunt for the Nightingale?

The message I try to include in all my children's books is the same as the message the NSPCC teaches - to speak out to a trusted adult and get help when we need it.

I also hope this book sparks the same interest and excitement in birds and nature that it sparked in me when writing this, as now more than ever, we all need to work together to protect the wonders in our natural world.

12. What are you writing currently?

I'm currently working on a second middle grade title that I'm really excited about! This one includes mammals too, so I'm excited to announce more about this soon.

13. What are your favourite escapes from your desk?

I love walking and have a particular fondness for trees and woodland. My favourite place in the world is a small clearing in Abbot's Wood not far from my home in East Sussex. It changes every time I go there, and I love taking my binoculars and seeing what I can spy, hiding in the treetops!

The Hunt for the Nightingale by Sarah Ann Juckes (Simon & Schuster Children's Books) is available at all good bookshops (RRP £7.99)

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