Category Archives: History

Wings: Spitfire

Neither Tom Palmer nor Barrington Stoke could have known how appropriate it would turn out to be to offer this series of three books about planes and past wars, set in a soccer summer school for young teens, right now. Spitfire is the second book, and as the title tells you, it’s about WWII.

Tom Palmer, Wings: Spitfire

In the first one, Flyboy, we met Jatinder who ended up in WWI, flying a plane, mysteriously taking over the part of a real WWI pilot who, like Jatinder, was a Sikh. In Spitfire we meet his fellow soccer fan Greg, full name Grzegorz Tomaszewski, whose parents are Polish. In the same strange way as Jatinder, one night Greg finds himself at the controls of a real Spitfire, somewhere off the coast of France.

Like Jatinder, he’s somehow turned into a real pilot, and he needs to grow up fast to deal with a dangerous situation.

Tom Palmer has clearly watched The Great Escape a few times, but there are worse films to inspire a bit of plot, and perhaps young readers today, whether dyslexic or not, won’t have seen the film.

This timetravelling into old wars appears to be connected with the boys’ soccer school host, Steve, whose house sits right next to an old airfield, and who enjoys talking to the visiting boys about what things used to be like. So here we have Britain’s pride, the two world wars, and these stories show us pilots from other backgrounds coming to help the British fight a common enemy.

It’s exciting and not a little emotional. The boys from today learn a lot from their visits to the past. And so should we, about all kinds of things.

(Naturally there is a Spitfire to build.)

Oh, Freedom!

This feels timely. In Oh, Freedom we get black American history courtesy of Italian author Francesco D’Adamo, translated into English by Siân Williams. It might feel like the long way round, but that’s rather like the walk to freedom the slaves in the book experience. Sometimes to get there means going an extra long way.

It’s a short novel set in 1850, about ten-year-old Tommy and his family, who through a stranger find out about the Underground Railroad, which is the name for an organised way of walking to freedom in Canada.

Francesco D'Adamo, Oh Freedom

Peg Leg Joe shows them the way, and also how to avoid getting caught by their owner’s foreman. This is fascinating reading, and I’m especially pleased to read about all the – mostly – anonymous help the fleeing slaves receive en route. Complete strangers leave food and clothes for them, help them find the way if necessary, and at some point share their home with them.

We need more of this kind of thing. We need it more than ever. The friendship towards people you don’t know and who are a little bit different from you. The books about this kind of behaviour. All of it.

(By sheer coincidence, there was an event with Francesco in London yesterday. We need more events, too.)

When there was hope

What to blog about today? Yeah, well, that’s a hard one.

In the 1960s I didn’t think about politics. It was beyond my comprehension. In the 1970s I thought about it quite a lot. It was something that seemed to bring about change. The kind of change that was good for most of us.

It seemed as though things would become mostly all right, if only we waited long enough. Not everything could happen overnight. There was political music to listen to. There was political fiction to read.

Below are some of the books I read and enjoyed. I haven’t read them for over forty years, so don’t remember enough to tell you much of the actual plots. The two by Stig Malmberg were set in contemporary Sweden, and featured fairly ordinary Swedish teenagers. One is about doing your national service and how that might be right, or not.

Books by Sven Wernström and Stig Malmberg

The two novels by Sven Wernström are set in Latin America and deal with things like the Cuban revolution as experienced by ordinary teenagers there. It was thrilling to read for someone who grew up on Enid Blyton and then moved on to Agatha Christie, both of whom wrote books about characters unlike myself, during a time period that was already in the past, and which I couldn’t know.

The Retired Children’s Librarian was cautiously liberal, and didn’t really care for Malmberg, but grudgingly admitted there was merit in Wernström’s Latin American stories. I liked them all, and it didn’t matter that she didn’t always approve.

Because there was hope. Did I say? If we waited long enough, life would be fine and fair for everyone. If the ‘wrong’ party won an election, it was just their politics that was wrong. As people they were as normal and decent as the rest of us.

Until this week.

Dindy and the Elephant

There is less elephant in this book by Elizabeth Laird than the title leads you to expect. But that’s OK. What’s there is quite satisfying, and I feel as though I could almost deal with an angry elephant.

Elizabeth Laird, Dindy and the Elephant

I have to admit to a particular fondness for period fiction from India, and former British Empire countries in Africa. This one is set in India, on a tea plantation between the end of the war and just before Indian independence.

Nine-year-old Dindy and her brother Pog, who’s only six, escape from their bungalow one day when bored, despite not being allowed out. That’s when they encounter the potentially dangerous elephant.

But this is mostly about how much love ‘British’ children born and growing up in India have for their country, and how people of their parents’ generation don’t necessarily share that love. Dindy’s mother hates India and looks down on the natives, including those who work for the family.

Prejudice from both sides emerges and it’s interesting to see how they deal with a bad situation, and also what their feelings really are.

Very lovely little book. Whereas there might be no point in a sequel, I rather feel it’d be nice to see what happened next.

Broken Sky

This is the kind of novel you simply read and read until you get to the end. L A Weatherly’s Broken Sky (with the subtitle Trust No One, which you should keep in mind at all times) is a futuristic historical sort of WWII story.

It’s 1941 in a new world, one long after our 1941, but with a lot in common with the real WWII period. Our world was destroyed in one too many wars, and now they have Peace. War is not permitted. But to keep some kind of balance, fighter pilots fight one-on-one to determine which country gets what and when.

L A Weatherly, Broken Sky

Amity is such a pilot, 18 years old, and based near what used to be Los Angeles. The country next to her Western Seaboard, is Central States and they have a leader who reminds me very much of a certain presidential hopeful. He is just as scary, too, and there is a female character rather like the two-faced woman in a recent Danish television series.

I like the way we now have girl pilots as main characters in books, and how there can be an alternate WWII, allowing the writer to change reality a little, while still keeping much of what we are used to.

Under the surface things are not as neat and clean as people have been led to believe, however. The reader discovers this from the start, as Lee begins with almost the end, and you know how bad it will be. Just not how it got like that.

It’s exciting, romantic and simply a marvellous read.

‘Trust no one’ is what you need to keep in mind. And you think, ‘yes, but…’ and I suspect we shouldn’t do that. Unless there is lots of double and triple bluffing going on. Which there could be. Perhaps.

There is one thing wrong with Broken Sky, and it’s that there are two sequels still to come. I want all of it now!

Pc

The King was here last week. Well, not right here visiting us, but in town. He’d been scheduled several months ago, but had to cancel when the Crown Princess gave birth to her second child. The re-scheduled date had to be re-scheduled when Prince Carl Philip became a father, and then luckily there were no more royal births and the King was finally able to come.

I’m only mentioning him here because I was thinking about author and cartoonist Jan Lööf, who has been accused of not being pc enough. There was talk about his publisher changing things in his books to pc them up a bit, or not to re-publish books, and other silly things.

Ville 1

He is 76 and wrote some of his books so long ago that we’d not started worrying about pc-ness, or at least, the boundaries were in a different place. Years ago I blogged about Jan’s cartoon Ville, when the King and Prime Minister Olof Palme featured, and were the heroes of the moment. Palme got angry but the King thought it was fun. Possibly there were aliens in the story, the portrayal of whom might have been un-pc. Or not.

It’s worrying when every so often people have to pause and look at what went before and then judge it by the standards of today. That’s never going to work. If it doesn’t offend the intended readers – in this case children – it’s fine. If it’s so dated in whatever way that the children avoid the books, then that’s all there is to it. No need to make changes; you just move on.

But at least I learned a new word. Pc in Swedish is pk. Obvious, really.

V for Violet

1961 is one of the characters in Alison Rattle’s V for Violet. Set in Battersea in London, this is a refreshingly different period novel. Perhaps Alison doesn’t get everything completely right (not that I’m an expert on London in 1961), but it’s interesting to look at 16-year-old Violet’s working class life at a time that not many find all that exciting.

Alison Rattle, V for Violet

Born as the war ended, and as a replacement for her dead war hero brother Joseph, life has been tough for this clever girl who never gets noticed. Her mother adored Joseph, and then there is Norma, her much older, married sister. Violet also has a best friend, Jackie, but now that they have left school, their friendship changes.

As Violet works in her parents’ chippy, wishing she wasn’t so boring and that she was allowed to choose her own job, several girls in Battersea are found murdered. Is it the lecherous park keeper?

Violet meets Beau, a handsome and exciting boy, and she begins to hope. And then her brother Joseph turns up, not dead, and something is not quite right.

It takes a while, but Violet begins to suspect she knows who’s murdering the local girls.

(And so did I, for a change.)

Very satisfying story and just that bit different from many others.