Category Archives: War

The Key to Flambards

I have a confession to make; I have only read the first K M Peyton book about Flambards. And I only read it after meeting Kathy at Meg Rosoff’s house seven years ago. That’s when I learned that everyone adores her. This is understandable. And [female] people my age have read ‘all’ the books and adore them. Also understandable.

I got a bit confused by Christina, back then, and in the end I didn’t pursue the remaining three Flambards books. She was a heroine, albeit not your typical leading lady.

Linda Newbery, The Key to Flambards

Now we have The Key to Flambards, a new sequel by Linda Newbery, another big Peyton fan. She asked Kathy’s permission to use her house and her characters, and she has placed them in the here and now. So 14-year-old Grace [Russell] is Christina’s great great granddaughter, and she and her mother Polly come to Flambards for the summer, for the first time.

The two of them have had a hard time with Grace’s parents divorcing and Grace experiencing a life-changing accident. And here they are, at a Flambards where not much has changed, with relatives they didn’t know, all over the place.

Luckily Linda has provided a family tree, which helps, and as a less devoted Flambards reader, I am not entirely sure where Kathy’s characters end and where Linda’s begin. I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter and I was better off not worrying too much about it, apart from a little Wikipedia research…

The story is exactly as I’ve come to expect from Linda and I really enjoyed it. Grace has a lot in common with Christina, and there are modern versions of Mark and Will.

The future of Flambards is uncertain and the people who work and live there have to try and save the place. Grace and her mother come to love it, and make new friends. Grace learns to ride.

I saw a review that suggested the teenagers in this book are old-fashioned. Maybe they are, but we need them as well as the fashionably edgy ones. The old Flambards fans will expect something similar to before, and besides, Linda covers ‘everything’ in her book; disability, divorce, unemployment, the war in Afghanistan, the exploitation of the countryside, abuse and violence, same sex relationships. It’s just that it happens in a romantic, countryside setting.

Highly recommended, whether you know the old Flambards or not. If you don’t, you might want to have a look at it afterwards.

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Hear Candy here

There is a nice interview with Candy Gourlay on YouTube. If you haven’t heard her at an event for Bone Talk, you’ll find this fascinating. There is so much a reader never realises about the journey the author made to be able to write that wonderful book you’ve just enjoyed.

While it all makes sense when you hear it, I don’t think I’d ever have been able to work it out for myself. Unless I was brave enough to start writing a book, thus discovering how you need to change how you look at everything.

And I had no idea that rice paddies are noisy.

Another Costa for Hilary!

I sensed that Hilary McKay was most probably going to be this year’s winner of the children’s Costa award. But I didn’t want to say so, since it’s so hard to deny things in a believable way if cornered.

“Children’s writer Hilary McKay collects the Costa Children’s Book Award for the second time for The Skylarks’ War, a story following the loves and losses of a family growing up against the backdrop of World War One which the judges called ‘as perfect a novel as you could ever want to read’.”

How right that judge is.

And Hilary was up against some good ones, so it’s never easy predicting. Or for that matter – I imagine – to judge.

Yippee for Hilary and her Skylarks!

Hilary McKay, The Skylarks' War

Our Castle by the Sea

This novel by Lucy Strange, about the outbreak of WWII, was more painful to read than I’d expected. Or, indeed, felt before. It also made me harbour quite unpleasant thoughts about Mr Churchill.

Lucy Strange, Our Castle by the Sea

12-year-old Petra and her older sister Magda live in a Kent coast lighthouse, with their lighthouse-keeper father, and their German mother. Yes, German. Never popular with local people, it seems the outbreak of war freed up any inhibitions they may have had about what you can say and do towards the wrong kind of foreigner.

The children are also tainted by their semi-foreignness and life becomes quite hard for the whole family. This is more than a war time story, however, and veers more towards crime fiction as the story grows.

It’s fascinating; no question about that. But you read it with your heart in your throat, thinking about what internment might have meant. Or treason. And then there is the case of evacuating children.

But it’s the lack of human warmth from some of the people you perhaps thought were friends and neighbours that really got to me. And more so, what it reminded me of.

Have we learned nothing?

Mare’s War

What do you know about black American women in WWII? Probably as much as I did, and that wasn’t a lot. Award-winning Mare’s War, by Tanita S Davis, is about the women of the 6888th, the only Women’s Army Corps sent to Europe.

Mare arrived aged almost 17 – you had to be 20 to join up – from her small home town in Alabama, where being coloured was to be a second class citizen. She needed to escape her mother’s abusive boyfriend, and the WAC seemed like a different planet.

Tanita S Davis, Mare's War

Much of the military training and the friendships formed, brought me straight back to Michael Grant’s Front Lines, but unlike his trilogy, these women were not armed and ‘all’ they did was deal with a serious backlog of military post, letters and parcels needed to lift morale among those fighting.

Telling her story to her two teenage granddaughters during a long drive across America, one hot summer, Mare shocks and surprises the girls with how it was, in what seems to be not all that long ago.

This is a fantastic book, which will entertain and educate at the same time. You might know more than Tali and Octavia do, and you might not find Mare as embarrassing as they do [at first], but you will love seeing what it was like for these pioneering women, and what they’ve become.

While seemingly a story about WWII, it is mostly about how far black women in America have come, even if it isn’t anywhere near far enough. At least Mare lived to see her granddaughters taking for granted a life she could never have imagined, and which wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for her flight away from the farm where she grew up.

Read this and be inspired.

A thought for our time

Before we look too deeply into our mince pies, I want to share the quote Lucy Mangan shares in her Bookworm. It’s from one of her ‘older’ children’s books, Summer of my German Soldier, by Bette Greene.

Set in the American deep south, the quote comes from a [hidden] German soldier, who’s made friends with a young Jewish girl, and his explanation of ‘how Hitler succeeded is still my go-to reference as I’m reading the headlines about the rise of whichever new (or ancient) evil is dominating the news cycle that day.

“His first layer is an undeniable truth, such as: the German worker is poor. The second layer is divided equally between flattery and truth: the German worker deserves to be prosperous. The third layer is total fabrication: the Jews and the Communists have stolen what is rightfully yours.”

Evil builds in increments. Your understanding of this basic truth may grow in sophistication and detail over the years, but the earlier and harder you grasp the simple, unchanging bastard fundamental, the better off you’ll be.’

Needless to say, I want to read this book.

Is War Over?

David Almond’s new, short, book War Is Over is mainly about young John, who in 1918 keeps being told that he is at war. He – rightly – feels he is too young to be at war, as are German children. Whatever the adults say.

This story is mostly about the perception of Germans, and about the ‘cowards’ who earned themselves white feathers, like John’s friend Dorothy’s uncle, who hides in the woods, because he has dared suggest Germans are also people.

John is a lovely boy, and I hope he grew up to do something about this hatred of foreigners.

David Almond and David Litchfield, War Is Over

The book is richly illustrated by David Litchfield, and you’d want to read the book if only to look at and enjoy his illustrations. They are pure art, and so beautiful.


And then, thinking about how Germans apparently are not human beings like the British, I caught some of the Remembrance Sunday ceremony on television yesterday. I watched as afterwards, the President* of Germany led members of the British Royal family away from the Cenotaph.

My mind almost boggled. Here we had been remembering two wars against Germany, and here was the President of that former enemy country, not only present, but important enough that he went before the Royals. I almost had time for the thought ‘isn’t it great how far we have all come for this to be seen as the norm?’

And then I remembered what the politicians are busy doing right now.

(*His name is Frank-Walter Steinmeier, if you didn’t know. I didn’t either.)