Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth


Tash has to follow many rules to survive in Tibet, a country occupied by Chinese soldiers. But when a man sets himself on fire in protest and soldiers seize Tash’s parents, she and her best friend Sam must break the rules. They are determined to escape Tibet – and seek the help of the Dalai Lama himself in India.

And so, with a backpack of Tash’s father’s mysterious papers and two trusty yaks by their side, their extraordinary journey across the mountains begins

A unique middle-grade novel, this is the story of Tash, Sam and their escape from Tibet to India to find the Dali Lama and save Tash’s parents. I loved it first of all for its diversity. Jess Butterworth brings us into contact with Tibetan and Indian culture, and with the religion of Buddhism. I think this kind of diversity is so important in children’s literature. The political backdrop of the story, occupied Tibet and the propaganda it entailed, was enlightening and I finished the book feeling like I had learned something.

The prose is short, sharp and colourful and propels the plot forward at an action-packed pace. The chapters are also short and snappy and break the story up into chunks that are easy to read- encouraging for children who may feel intimidated by reading. The last paragraph of chapter 1 is perfect. It hooks the reader and sets the atmosphere for the rest of the novel.

“There are two words that are banned in Tibet. Two words that can get you locked in prison without a second thought. I think these words often. Sometimes, I even say them. I watch the soldiers tramping away and call the words after them.
‘Dalai Lama’.”

The depiction of these foreign places and cultures awaken the senses and make them feel authentic. We know that they are, because Jess spent much of her childhood living in the foothills of the Himalayas! The Himalayas are where a lot of the story takes place, and the journey across them is accompanied by irresistible descriptions of intricately painted prayer bowls, long-haired yaks and Tibetan food! Yak cheese, spicy curries and momos, a type of south-asian dumpling.

I liked how Tash and Sam grow as people throughout their adventure. One thing I would say is that it would have been good for their personalities to have been developed a bit more, and that I would definitely enjoy reading more about them in a further story to get to know them in a setting where survival isn’t their main priority. The ending of the novel was very moving, and I think it’s great that some facts about Tibet were included on the final page.

This is a fantastic book which is relevant to today’s crises: refugees, conflict and children growing up in war zones. Although there’s danger, gruelling journeys and battles to survive, there is also hope, and hope is the essence of Tash’s story.

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