Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

My Top Ten Secret Gardens

Big Book Little Book is delighted to host author Holly Webb as she shares her top ten secret gardens.
Holly has written a sequel to one of my favourite childhood books, The Secret Garden. Dickon, from the original story, was one of my very first book crushes, before I even knew what a crush was. There was something so wonderful about the walled garden, a secret , special place away from the adults, where the children were in charge, and in the case of Dickon, much more knowledgeable than the adults. I am really looking forward to sharing the story with my children in the future and this exciting follow up.
With out further ado, over to Holly.

Return to the Secret GardenIt’s 1939 and a group of children have been evacuated to Misselthwaite Hall. Emmie is far from happy to have been separated from her cat and sent to a huge old mansion. But soon she starts discovering the secrets of the house – a boy crying at night, a diary written by a girl named Mary and a garden. A very secret garden…

1. Great Maytham Hall

Frances Hodgson Burnett lived in this house in Kent from the mid-1890s, and the walled rose garden was her inspiration for The Secret Garden. She wrote in a little summerhouse in the corner of the garden. The garden is open one day a week under the National Gardens Scheme.
Click here learn more about Great Maytham Hall , or here to find a garden

2. Misselthwaite Manor, from The Secret Garden

The site of the secret garden itself – in amongst the kitchen gardens and orchards, surrounded by a high brick walls. Mary first discovers the garden in winter, and the trails of roses look grey and dead. Only the little green points of the bulbs give any clue to the garden that’s waiting to come alive.

3. My childhood garden

I grew up in a Victorian house in South London, with a long, narrow garden. My parents still live in the same house, but strangely, the garden seems much smaller now! I remember it as huge, and full of hiding places…

4. The garden in The Magician’s Nephew

I loved (still love) the Narnia books, and this garden is fascinating – Polly and Digory fly on the winged horse Fledge (possibly my favourite character) to pick an apple from the tree in this walled garden.

5.Miniature gardens

While she’s still living in India, Mary Lennox makes toy gardens, picking flowers and arranging them in the dusty earth. I used to do this too, and I loved making gardens in trays with my children.

6. Kew Gardens

Not a secret at all, of course. But I remember visiting these as a child, and being fascinated by the glass houses, with the enormous water lilies. I loved fairy tales, and Beatrix Potter’s Jeremy Fisher, and I was sure there were secret creatures living in those glass houses.
To learn more about Kew Gardens visit their website here.

7. Thumbelina’s garden

In Hans Christian Andersen’s story, Thumbelina appears inside a flower. After a whole series of adventures, she and her friend the swallow find a meadow full of flowers, and Thumbelina meets a flower fairy prince. I don’t know why, but I’ve always imagined that the flowers were tulips!

8. RHS Wisley

Again, I visited these gardens as a child, but all I remember is a house made out of wisteria. It was a summerhouse, completed surrounded by the purple flowers, and I wanted to live there. The wisteria in my own garden now is one of my favourite things! Looking at photos of Wisley’s long pergolas, I wonder if imagined that the house was round? But I’m sure it was… There’s a wisteria pergola at Great Maytham, too. I changed the idea of the summerhouse slightly for Return to the Secret Garden, my character Emmie imagines herself a house of flowers, but hers is made of roses and honeysuckle. (It would have been wisteria, except in the book it was the wrong time of year!)
Learn more about Wisley here

9. The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Real life secret gardens! Heligan was abandoned during the First World War, and the gardens were rediscovered and recreated in the 1990s.
Discover them for yourself by following this link.

10.The garden next-door, from Moving Molly by Shirley Hughes

One of my favourite books ever. I read it so many times, and I still have my copy. Molly moves house and finds that the garden next door has been abandoned – it’s a paradise for tigerish cats, and full of adventures.

Post by Holly Webb

Holly Webb_RTSG2Holly Webb is the author of Dog Magic, Cat Magic, and Lost in the Snow. She has always loved animals and owns two very spoiled cats. They haven’t said a word to her yet, but she’s always listening, just in case! She lives in England.

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Waiting for Anya

Michael Morpurgo

anyaIt is World War II and Jo stumbles on a dangerous secret: Jewish children are being smuggled away from the Nazis, close to his mountain village in Spain. Now, German soldiers have been stationed at the border. Jo must get word to his friends that the children are trapped. The slightest mistake could cost them their lives.

Waiting for Anya is set in France in world war 2. When Jo’s Dad is sent to war, he is left in charge of the farm. One day when Jo is left in charge of the sheep, a bear pays an unexpected visit. The whole village is distracted enough for Jo to sneek off into the forest where he meets a man who will change the way he thinks forever. Benjamin is a Jew. France is a dangerous place for Jews and Jo must do all he can to defend his new friends and get them safely across the border into Spain. One mistake could cost their lives.

This is the best book I have ever read. This is also the first book I have cried whilst reading, and would have sobbed on end if I could get the tears out. The ending is a very sad one but was good as well. I definitely felt mixed emotions. The very best book I have EVER read.

Verdict: I loooove this book. Best.Book.Ever!

Reviewed by Izzy (10)

Publisher: Egmont
Publication Date: November 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 192
Genre: Historical fiction, WWII
Age: Middle grade
Reviewer: Izzy (10)
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: British book
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Cross My Heart

Carmen Reid

cross my heartBrussels, 1940. Fifteen-year-old Nicole watches as the Nazis invade Belgium. Determined not to stand by as her country is brought to its knees, Nicole vows to fight back and joins the Belgian Resistance. Under her new alias – Coco – Nicole embarks on a dangerous new life as a spy, where the only question is not if you’ll be caught, but when…

As the Germans walk into Belgium in May 1940 Nicole’s world is turned upside down. Despite the danger, the warnings and the fear Nicole can’t help herself and joins the Resistance as her world is torn apart. Nicole shows herself to be a brave and resourceful member of the team. She is flung into more and more hazardous situations and has to make difficult and even life threatening decisions. Nicole is an inspiring heroine.

As people disappear, Jews are marked, food diminishes and everyone lives in fear as they witness the viciousness of Nazi rule, Nicole’s determination to help only gets stronger. Nicole’s involvement in the Resistance causes her to see the worst of the Nazi’s in action and as the story develops, Nicole sees more and more of the worst of the Nazi regime. The atrocities she sees and experiences are familiar to anyone with some knowledge of World War Two but I found that seeing them through the eyes of this teenager was a bit like hearing about it for the first time. There is a freshness and immediacy in the writing.

There is also a little romance in the tale as Nicole grows closer to Anton, a childhood friend who she joins the resistance with and comes to mean a lot to her. There is added poignancy in the situation the young lovers are in, knowing they are putting themselves in danger and could be ripped away from each other at any time.

Verdict: This was a great read; there is action, tension, fear, love , courage and inspiration in its pages. Whether you have read lots about WW2 or this is your first attempt at reading anything about that time it will draw you in and keep you there until the last turn of the page.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Corgi Children’s
Publication Date: August 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Genre: Historical fiction
Age: YA
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: British book
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Unravelled: Two Wars. Two Affairs. One Marriage.

M K Tod

unravelledTwo wars, two affairs, one marriage. 

In October 1935, Edward Jamieson’s memories of war and a passionate love affair resurface when an invitation to a WWI memorial ceremony arrives. Though reluctant to visit the scenes of horror he has spent years trying to forget, Edward succumbs to the unlikely possibility of discovering what happened to Helene Noisette, the woman he once pledged to marry. Travelling through the French countryside with his wife Ann, Edward sees nothing but reminders of war. After a chance encounter with Helene at the dedication ceremony, Edward’s past puts his present life in jeopardy. When WWII erupts a few years later, Edward is quickly caught up in the world of training espionage agents, while Ann counsels grieving women and copes with the daily threats facing those she loves. And once again, secrets and war threaten the bonds of marriage. With events unfolding in France, England and Canada, UNRAVELLED is a compelling novel of love, duty and sacrifice set amongst the turmoil of two world wars.

This is a novel based on turbulent times and dealing with conflicting emotions. We meet Edward and Ann, a Canadian married couple, in the year of 1936 when Edward has been invited to attend the unveiling of the war memorial at Vimy Ridge, one of the places Edward fought in during the 1st World War. For Edward this invitation sparks a flood of carefully buried memories and emotions of fighting in the trenches and his role in the Signals. Through his flashbacks we are flung into the violent, unstable and vital role of front line soldiering in this hideous environment. Tod eloquently describes the sights and smells and laces them with the strong mix of emotions that must have been experienced at the time, fear and courage walk hand in hand and the struggles of survival were movingly written.

Edward also remembers his lost French love Helene and his motivation to go back to Vimy Ridge and face all the difficulties from his part is largely motivated by his desire to see her again and to find out what happened to her. From this springboard we jump into finding out about Edward’s marriage to Ann and his conflict about his longing to find Helene despite having a wife and children.

As time moves on in the present and the 2nd War looms Edward is again assaulted by recollections of the hardship and those lost, accompanied by the fear of what might happen to those he knows now. As this time Edward is called into service behind the scenes, training people to work with The Resistance in Europe, the look at the war is very different, but again utterly fascinating. There is an abundance of detail woven into the story telling, and it is done with skill and compassion for the terrible situations.

Despite all his faults I really liked Edward. I felt for him in his difficulties and wanted him to overcome the challenges that came his way. In my imagined world of that era his reserve and stoicism fit right in. I found it took longer to like Ann, but she won me over as she copes with her husband’s reactions to war, his affair and plays her own part in helping others in WW2, counselling bereaved women. As Edward and Ann’s relationship is further tested it is easy to see how they represent the struggles of many families in wartime. This novel being set in Canada made it a little different from other war novels I have read set in Europe and I was caught up in the fresh perspective this gave.

I found that in this novel the experiences of Edward as a soldier and his struggles in his personal life are interwoven in a very realistic and compelling way. Equally Ann has much to cope with and her dilemma’s and hardships are so believable.

Verdict: It was a great blend of personal journey’s and world wide drama.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Tod Publishing
Publication Date: August 2013
Format: eARC
Pages: 442/698KB
Genre: Historical fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Provided by author
Challenge: None
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows

potato peelIt’s 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can’t think what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance, he’s acquired a book that once belonged to her – and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, her curiosity is piqued and it’s not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realizes that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.

I bought a bundle of books from a well-known online book retailer in part because it was a great deal and in part because it contained this book. I’ve wanted to read it for ages having missed it when our book club read it. It was one of those books everyone seemed to have enjoyed and I didn’t want to miss out! Thankfully I wasn’t disappointed.

Written in the form of letters this novel is the story of Juliet discovering what it was like to live on the island of Guernsey during World War Two. As the Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied during the war their perspective is a unique one. I found this book to be jammed full of anecdotes and details that made it all come to life and it was truly fascinating. Never before had I realised that all communication with the mainland was severed so Islanders really didn’t know what was going on (apart from the illegal radios). Their children were evacuated a few days before the German troops arrived and they had no contact at all with them for the duration of the war. I also didn’t know how scarce food became or how Guernsey people were sent to concentration camps if they were caught stepping out of line too far.

But enough of the history lesson! All the stories about life during the war are told to Juliet who is at the heart of the story. Having survived the war in London, writing a column for a newspaper, Juliet is looking for material to write a novel when through a chance letter she begins to correspond with the Islanders, all of whom were members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. What she finds is shocking, touching, humorous and courageous and through the letters Juliet makes friends as well as finding the characters for her next work.

Juliet ends up going to Guernsey to visit the society’s members. Her trip there completely changes her life. I really liked Juliet, she is charming, funny and pretty blunt at times. Her attempts at warding off an unwanted suitor had me smiling.

Juliet also discovers the story of Elizabeth. Elizabeth started (unintentionally) the Literary Society and was later taken to Ravensbruck by the Germans for helping a slave worker. Her story brings together all the tales told by the others in their letters, she is an inspiring character, to those in the book and to us as the reader.

Verdict: I so enjoyed this novel, it is full of information and yet you don’t notice it as you read. It has a fabulous range of characters, people who would never mix apart from these extenuating circumstances. It is realistic but still manages to be gentle, many stories are hideous but written with humour and in a way that is heart-warming. It reminded me again that friendship and courage are both so vitally important in the face of any adversity.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: June 2010
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Genre: Fiction, WW2
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: None
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The Book Thief

book thiefHERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE
1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.
SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH

The subject of this novel was of interest to me. I have read lots of books set during World War II but most have been from the point of view of the British, Americans or Europeans resisting the Germans, some have been about the Jews having to cope with the horrors thrust on them, only one has been through the eyes of a person living in Germany and trying to make sense of what was happening around them. The Book Thief is about Liesel, a young girl growing up in the wartime in Germany and this made it fascinating, quite aside from the interest in why she was a book thief or why Death himself was narrating the story.

Therefore, and I feel compelled to be honest here, it was a bit of a disappointment when it took me a little while to really get into this. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood! I found it hard to get to like our protagonist Liesel, despite her plight, (she loses her brother and mother and is fostered into a new, harsh family early on in the novel), however as I got to know her, and her new family I got drawn in.

From the beginning I was interested in the narration. The voice of Death as a storyteller and as a character is quirky to say the least, and the pictures painted in his sections are very evocative. It is evident that the war period is going to be a busy time for Death and he is ideally placed to comment on what is going on all around him. As an overseer he gets the big picture and can comment on the lives of Liesel and those that live with her and around her.

Liesel’s is a story of growing up in pre-war and wartime Germany, a time of tension, fear and suspicion, at least if you were unsure about Nazism and didn’t want to be a part of what was happening. As her father was a communist Liesel has been sent away to a new home, a place of safety. She has to learn about a new family, a new neighbourhood and a new Germany. There are tough times, food shortages and job difficulties for Liesel’s new father, work is hard to find if you are not thought to be sympathetic to the cause. It is hard to get by and live up to your conscience. Liesel also has to cope with finding friends, standing up for herself, proving herself and all the other things that would normally affect a teenage girl.

Zusak effortlessly shows us the toughness of Liesel’s world and the plight of the German people, those who are unhappy about what is happening and those who are drawn in. The book burnings, the attacks on the Jews, the shortages suffered by many, the fear of being different, the pressure to be the perfect German. As Liesel’s new family suffer, hide a Jew, wait for the bombs, lose a father to work away from home, through all these things the curtain is lifted on what it was like to be part of the other side.

Verdict: In the end I was enthralled, some of this is not easy to read, but it is so thought provoking, it is heartbreaking and at the same time it succeeds in being up-lifting. Many of its themes are still relevant today. A fascinating read.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Black Swan
Publication Date: September 2007
Format: Paperback
Pages: 554
Genre: Historical fiction, WWII
Age: YA
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Award: Code Name Verity

code name verityI have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.
That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.
We are a sensational team.

Code Name Verity is set during the Second World. Split into two parts the first section is ‘written’ by one of two friends, though we don’t find out her name until the end of her section. Captured by the Gestapo whilst in Nazi occupied France, she tells the story of her friend Maddie, and through this the story of their friendship. The second part of the book is told by Maddie herself as she tells her own story in the aftermath of her friend’s capture.

Now I mentioned last week that I had tried to read this book some time ago, but had not managed to finish it. It wasn’t that I hated the book, leaving it wasn’t even intentional, I just put it down one day and then never picked it up again. Since then I have seen countless bloggers and librarians rave about the book, where I was left a little underwhelmed. So expecting the book to be on the shortlist I started it again with a completely open mind, hoping that I could see in the book what everybody else has loved so much. I did find the second reading so much easier, I was drawn into the book to a much greater extent than before. In the writing and the storyline I can see what everybody else has loved, but I still don’t think it’s the book for me.

Code Name Verity is undeniably a well written book, telling a beautiful story of an unlikely friendship set against the hardship of the Second World War. I am left wondering why I just don’t connect with the book. Although I have an interest in history, modern world history has never been my favourite period so that could possibly be an issue for me. I think the main issue for me the first time round was that the book was just not what I was expecting.

The dual narrative of the book works very well. The ‘voices’ of the characters are very different, but entirely consistent with the way that the other friend sees them. It is the relationship between Maddie and her friend that really makes the book. Two girls that would have been very unlikely to meet at any time other than war, just ‘click’ and quickly become very important to each other. They don’t need to see each other every day or know everything about the other’s life; they are just there for each other. The age group that the book is aimed at often struggle with forming friendships, doubts about their own identities come to the surface which affect their relationships with others and this is a really positive relationship that girls can use as an example. Though towards the end of the book something pretty shocking happens, it is completely in line with the friendship that the two young women have.

The book also deals with some very sensitive situations that go hand in hand with war such as death and torture, but these are handled well enough that reading the book is not an issue for younger secondary school students. They may however struggle with the writing style, which in a lot of ways is quite grown up. The Carnegie judges gave the book an age rating of 13+ and I would probably agree with this assessment, though there will of course be many exceptions!

Verdict: A beautifully written story of friendship set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Egmont Press
Publication Date: February 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 339
Genre: WW2, Historical fiction
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Letters From Home


Kristina McMorris

Two people. An unforgettable moment. One extraordinary love story.
In Chicago, Illinois, two people are about to lock eyes across a crowded dance floor. The following moment will spark the love story of a lifetime…
The year is 1944 and America has just entered the war. Young men and women are being drafted in to fight with their allies on Europe’s distant shores. Throughout America, sweethearts are saying their last goodbyes.
Liz Stephens is already betrothed to budding US politician Dalton Harris, but when she meets GI Morgan McClain, she feels an instant and intense connection. But then he dances with her flirtatious best friend Betty and Liz is left feeling like just another soldier’s fancy.
Betty is mesmerized by Morgan and begs Liz to write letters for her to post to him overseas. Liz reluctantly agrees, in the end anxious to retain a connection to him. As the last searing days of World War II loom, a correspondence begins that will alter the course of their lives forever.

I picked this up on one of those supermarket two for £xx deals. I really wanted the other book and took this as I can’t resist a book bargain and ironically I enjoyed this more than the one I had really wanted in the first place.

I have always had a bit of a fascination with WWII and part of that is the way it affected people at home. I’ve read plenty of novels that are based in those times and touch on many issues, but I have never read one that was set in America during the war. It is a little different from the UK as I am sure you will appreciate!

Having read this story though, the things that stand out for me were the similarities between the lives of people here and there. People are people wherever they are! There are the obvious differences, less rationing, more men at home and the women are less directly involved as there are men there to do ‘men’s’ jobs. But the women in this tale are living lives dominated by the war and dominated by the men who are at home and away fighting. In some ways it feels that they have even less freedom than British women at this time, some of whom were experiencing things they never would have had the opportunity to do before. However there is that over-riding popular view that women belong at home and their job is to support their man and have the children! Even though this is a clever love story reading this from a 21st century perspective the women seem quite trapped, and some of them don’t even feel or seem to notice it. It is not that they are unhappy; their expectations are just so different.

There are three girls at the heart of this novel. Liz meets a GI (Morgan) and falls head over heels, despite her being attached to someone else, and despite the fact that her friend Betty likes him too. As Betty agrees to write to Morgan and then doesn’t follow through Liz takes up the job with far-reaching consequences. Betty is a bit of a good time girl. She really wants to be a singer but through the turn of events ends up being a nurse in the jungle; this is not a situation that pleases Betty! Finally there is Julia who is excelling in her clothes design course but passes up the opportunity to work for Vogue magazine so she can support her Fiancée Dalton in his ambitions, and not disappoint their two families.

Through these three women’s lives we get a clear picture of what it was like in 1940’s America. Feminism hasn’t arrived yet and there is huge pressure to fit with the social norm. These three women all find ways to overcome that pressure and have their own rebellion in pursuing what is important to them despite what other people may think.

There is insight into the frontline war as well with Morgan’s letters giving us a realistic illustration of the terror and hardships suffered by soldiers, along with the guilt, loneliness and the battle to remain true to yourself in a wartime situation.

Verdict: Even though I have dwelt on the elements of this book that interested me in this review it is primarily a love story. There is happiness and heartbreak, unrequited love, misunderstandings, friendship, families and warmth. It did take me a few pages to really get into it but once I did I couldn’t put it down.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: May 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Genre: Historical Fiction, Chick Lit
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: Oldest Book
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: Midnight Zoo

Sonya Hartnett

World War II, Eastern Europe: Tomas and his younger brother, Andrej, have fled their Romany encampment which has been besieged by the Germans; they carry Wilma, their baby sister, in a sack. In an abandoned, bombed-out town, the children discover a zoo. In it are a wolf and an eagle, a monkey, bear, lioness, seal, chamois and llama. The animals tell their stories to the children as they try to begin to understand what has become of their lives and, when they try to figure out a way to release the animals, what it means to be free.

Tomas and Andrej are brothers. Hiding in the forest they watched the Romany camp they live in be pulled apart and dragged off by Nazi soldiers. They carry with them their baby sister Wilma. They are lost and confused not understanding the world that they live in. Then they come across a zoo on the outskirts of a destroyed village, but this isn’t any old zoo, in this zoo the animals can talk.

I really struggled with this book. Had it not been on the Carnegie shortlist I’m not sure I would have finished it. It took me three weeks to read, an incredibly long time for me, especially as at 192 pages this is a really short book. I’m not sure why I struggled so much. This is a beautifully written, thought provoking book, from a distance I can tell that it is incredibly well written. That, however, I think may be the problem, I view this book from a distance. All through the book I felt emotionally detached; I didn’t ‘feel’ the storyline or the characters. I kept waiting for it to suddenly click, but it never did. It shouldn’t be a problem with the writing, this is a book that has been crafted rather than written so I’m assuming it’s the subject matter. I am not an animal lover so maybe it is that. I also found the idea of two young boys, at the ages of 10 and 12, looking after a baby fairly unbelievable. But then this may well appeal to the intended audience and after all this is a book where animals can talk so is based it a world out of the realms of the ordinary anyway.

The story does have a magical, almost dreamlike quality and this is highlighted by the very simple but beautiful illustrations. The copy that I read was in hardback (another thing I usually dislike!) but I can’t imagine how this would translate to a paperback. I’m assuming the publishers feel the same given the time lapse between the publication of the hardback and now. Visually this is a stunningly striking book.

Verdict: Beautifully written and visually stunning. A magical, dreamlike story that I just didn’t quite connect with emotionally.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Walker
Publication Date: November 2010
Format: Hardback
Pages: 192
Genre: War
Age: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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The Mozart Question

Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman

A boy’s passion for music unlocks a painful secret — and draws his family together — in a multilayered tale by an outstanding author-illustrator pair.
Like any young boy, Paolo becomes obsessed with what he can’t have — in his case, a violin. Hidden away in his parents’ room, it beckons the boy to release the music inside it. The music leads Paolo to a family secret, a story of World War II that changed the course of his parents’ lives. But once the truth is told, the family is reunited in a way no one had thought possible. From Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman comes a story about sharing the joy of music from one generation to the next and about music’s power to transform and heal.

Just three weeks in to her fledgling career, cub reporter Lesley is handed the opportunity of a lifetime. Stepping in at the last minute for her hospitalised boss, Lesley is whisked away to Venice to interview world famous Violinist Paolo Levi. She has strict instructions to focus on the music and avoid asking the private musician any personal questions and under no circumstances should she ask the Mozart question. The only problem is that Lesley has no idea what the Mozart question is.

Twenty four hours later, sat drinking mint tea in the virtuoso’s sparse living quarters, Lesley discovers that Paolo has other ideas. For over forty years he has kept a promise and protected his family’s story, but now the time has come to tell the truth.

Filled with the compulsion to make music, one boy discovers his great gift when holding his fathers abandoned Violin for the first time. Exploring his new found passion leads to the discovery of his parent’s history, exposing the raw wounds of their holocaust experiences and the exploitation of the musical talent that was the key to their survival.

While undoubtedly emotive, Morpurgo handled the subject matter beautifully. Providing enough detail to educate and evoke emotion, but not too much as to overwhelm young readers. I sat reading this account with watery eyes, and at one point I felt a shiver of cold revulsion spread down my spine. Despite the horror of this bleak period in our history and mans ability to harm his fellow man, The Mozart Question, ultimately left me feeling uplifted. I was able to turn the final page with a small smile on my face, as in counterbalance to mans cruelty, Morpurgo shows us the beauty of mans love.

Michael Foreman’s illustrations fit the story perfectly. The use of muted colours conveys the seriousness of the subject matter, while the softness of the water colours allow the illustrations to sit within the text without distracting from the story, that is until afforded a full or half page. The artist’s talents are revealed in these larger images, capturing the mood and essence of the iconic images of the holocaust, that as adults have already had some exposure to.

This is the first and only Michael Morpurgo book I’ve read. I know, I know, where have I been?!(Hangs head in shame). I plan to amend this oversight by checking out other Morpurgo titles and sharing them with my children when they are old enough to appreciate them.

Verdict: At just eighty pages this small book packs a large emotional punch.

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Walker
Publication Date: 2007
Format: Paperback
Pages: 80
Genre: Holocaust
Age: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: British Book
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