Category Archives: Childrens
In this, the final Starstormers adventure, our heroes Vawn, Makenzi, Ispex and Tsu crashland their ship on Volcano. While waiting for their parents to rescue them, they must contend with the planet’s strange semi-sentient vegetation and bizarre animal life. Their “magical” friends from the previous adventure, the veils of Moloch, show up to lend a helping hand. Before long, their old nemesis the Octopus Emperor makes an appearance. The Starstormers, accustomed to running, decide to make a final stand against the ruler of Tyrannopolis.
With the exception of the first volume, the rest of the Starstormers saga has been fairly mediocre, including this final episode. That said, I found myself always captivated by the characters, if not the stories themselves. I think children, who are much more forgiving of plot-holes and unoriginality, will have a great fondness for the saga. It was my own childhood memories of volume 1 that led me to take this nostalgia trip in the first place, and I’m glad I did. I can’t help thinking it might have made a great little children’s TV series, given a chance.
Volcano provides decisive closure to the saga. Farewell, Starstormers. It’s been fun.
Once again the Starstormers – four children in a home-made junkyard spaceship – blast off into space to escape the onslaught of the Octopus Emperor. Their ship, barely holding together, crashlands on a planet known as Moloch (interesting term, if you’ve read the Bible). Upon exiting the ship, they find themselves in a jungle filled with all manner of Earthlike creatures, although mutated beyond recognition – and many of them hostile. Makenzi and Tsu take on the role of learning to hunt for food, while Ispex concerns himself with locating metals with which to repair the ship. Vawn starts hearing voices in her head, discovering that there is a vast intelligence in their midst. The Starstormers eventually learn that they are not on the planet itself but have crashed into a doughnut-shaped satellite that was placed in orbit – a structure made by mankind as an environment suitable for life, but upon which life has now run amuck. And the Starstormers must restore balance.
One question occurred to me: if you crash through the outer shell of the satellite into its Earthlike atmosphere, how do you avoid evacuating the entire atmosphere into space? Well, let’s just say, if you’ve read volumes 1 to 3 of Starstormers, Fisk isn’t terribly concerned with major plot holes or wacky science. In children’s literature anything goes; it shouldn’t, but it often does. Is it sloppy storytelling? Of course. Should a writer know better than to say to himself, “Ah, kids never notice that sort of stuff”? Yes, he should. Does it ruin the book? For an eight-year-old, probably not. And so, Fisk gets away with it.
I’ve had fun on this nostalgia trip so far, but with volume 4, I’ve started to get impatient and bored. The strength of the book is in the humourous interactions between the characters. It’s just a pity Fisk couldn’t come up with better story material. I’m on the home straight now, so I’ll probably read the final volume, Volcano, just for the sake of completeness.
There are five adventures in the Starstormers children’s space opera, and it has taken me a over year to locate copies of them all. This third adventure, Catfang, finally completes my set. The books are rare and hard to find on eBay, but judging by the amount of search requests my previous two reviews have generated, they are fondly remembered. I was very pleased with the first adventure, not so enamoured with the second, but something just keeps me reading. In part, I guess I’m revisiting my childhood and completing some unfinished business. But the books do hold a certain silly charm for me, even as an adult. The characters of Vawn, Ispex, Tsu and Makenzi (and not forgetting the robot, Shambles) all have their individual quirks, and the interactions between them are frequently funny.
The plots of the stories require a massive suspension of disbelief. If adventures one and two seemed unbelievable, Fisk really goes into overdrive with Catfang. At the end of book two, the Starstormers have escaped the clutches of the Octopus Emperor and are on the run in space. They now discover a stowaway on board: a cat. They name it Fang. Now, I won’t spoil the story by telling you what strange things the crew end up doing with this cat; all I will say is, “Fisk, what have you been smoking!” Because the antics in this book could only seem logical to an author floating several feet above his keyboard. But you know what? I just went with it and I had fun. And I’ll probably finish the series in due course.
Volume 1 of the Starstormers saga ended with our heroes, Vawn, Ispex, Makenzi and Tsu, reunited with their parents on the colony of Epsilon Cool. Unwittingly they brought the evil Octopus Emperor – a being made entirely of a dust-like substance – along for the ride. Worse still, we learn that one of the Starstormers is a traitor, secretly in league with the Emperor in return for seeing their parents again.
Volume 2 begins with the Octopus Emperor enslaving the Starstormers and their parents and bringing them to his homeworld of dust. The youngsters manage to trick the Emperor and escape in their home-made spacecraft, but they must leave their parents behind. Wandering the stars, they come across a vast deserted starship. Curious, they dock and board, only to learn that the ship is heading straight for the sun. They panic. Why? Good question. Four children who were smart enough to build their own spaceship are apparently too dumb to realise that they can simply undock and fly away. When they finally do realise and attempt to take-off, they’re too dumb to uncouple the docking mechanism, and they assume the larger ship’s gravity is too strong. Oh, brother.
When the kids are finally on their way again, they head for the Octopus homeworld and make a stab at rescuing their parents. The title, Sunburst, is a reference to the encounter with the ghost ship, but this is really only a mini-adventure of 40 pages occupying the centre of this 120-page book. The rest of the volume is concerned with the Octopus Emperor.
The general gist of what I’m saying would lead you to believe I hated this book. Actually, I quite enjoyed it, and read it in a couple of days. Elements of the plot are poorly thought out, some of the writing is sloppy; Nicholas Fisk may well have written the Starstormers saga purely as a money-spinner. Normally I crucify a book like this. Instead, I find I want to chase up the remaining three volumes. The adventure, as a whole, is a fairly decent pulp space opera for kids. I’m into nostalgia in a big way at the moment, and reading Starstormers gives me the same feeling I got reading the likes of the Eagle comic as a kid. Bite-sized throwaway stories; such things have their place.
I remember buying this book from a mail-order school book club when I was about eight years old, although I was so uninterested in reading as a child that I probably didn’t consume the book till I was about thirteen, when the reading bug finally bit me. Now, over twenty years later, I’m being bitten by the nostalgia bug, so here we go again …
Four children, Vawn, Ispex, Tsu and Makenzi live in a boarding school on Earth, while their parents are busy building a colony on the planet Epsilon Cool. It has been years since they last saw their parents and more before they ever will. Bored and frustrated, they come up with the crazy scheme of building their own spaceship out of parts salvaged from a spacecraft junkyard. They name their ship Starstormer and blast off. Weeks later, soaring through space on route to Epsilon Cool, they come across an ancient colony ship from earth called the Conqueror. The inhabitants have developed a strange religion, worshipping the “Glorious Ones,” whoever they are. Ispex is first to figure out that there is great peril here for the Starstormers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s clear from the beginning that the story requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief, what with kids building a spaceship, but once you accept that, you can get on with enjoying the tale. The four children have diverse character traits that make for interesting drama. I had one worry, initially, about a particular moral stance taken by the book: I didn’t like the way the author had one of the kids resorting to fraud in order to obtain spaceship parts. But the surprise ending casts a new light on the character’s actions. The ending leaves much unexplored, and feels like a cliffhanger from a multi-part drama. And indeed, there are five volumes in the Starstormers saga, each around one hundred pages. I’ve already found and purchased volume 2 on eBay.
An excellent children’s space adventure.
There are quite a number of short story collections in the “Un-” series by Paul Jennings: Unreal!, Unbelievable!, Uncanny!, etc. After reading the first one, I could have picked another at random, but the title of one story in the volume Uncovered! caught my attention. It was called “Pubic Hare.” Recognising Jennings’s brand of slightly risque humour for kids, I plunged ahead.
Imagine my surprise when the first story, “For Ever,” turned out to be a deliberately humourless melancholic drama about a boy who’s terminally ill. I have no problem with being surprised, but the story was too sentimental for my taste. There are a couple more stories (of the ten in total) that are semi-serious. The rest are in keeping with Jenning’s usual brand of wacky comedy, covering such topics as seing ghosts, bed-wetting, growing pubic hair, and even eating a cat-turd!
My favourite was one of the more serious stories: a time-travel tale called “Backward Step.” The majority of the others I found a bit, well, lacking in imagination.
Jennings’s Wikipedia page shows that several of his “Un-” books have picked up multiple awards. I couldn’t help but notice that, in contrast, Uncovered! only picked up one single award. I haven’t read enough of Jennings’s books to make an objective comparison, but my suspicion is that this is one of his weaker efforts.
Three children, Gezz, Luke and Malcolm, are playing on some waste ground close to where they live, when they bear witness to the arrival of an old man and a startling young girl. The man is Professor Wolfgang Droyd and the girl is Anne Droyd – not his daughter, but his android creation, capable of great feats of agility, speed and ingenuity. The two are on the run from the facility where Anne Droyd was developed: The Ministry. The children are initially frightened by the duo, but it soon becomes clear that the two escapees need their help. Soon, the professor is recaptured, and it falls to the three children to take care of Anne in his absense. Whilst Anne is in many ways superhuman, she is sub-human in terms of her emotions and experience. Gezz, Luke and Malcolm arrange for Anne to attend their school, to help her learn how to be human.
On the surface, the novel is a fairly straightforward children’s story, in a similar vein to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures. But there’s also something going on underneath: a look at the human race from the quirky perspective of a non-human. For instance, if someone said to Anne, “Go back,” she might start walking backwards. Misunderstandings are part of the fun of the story, but this is also a theme close to the author’s heart. Will Hadcroft has felt a bit like an alien all his life, suffering a mild form of Asperger Syndrome. I’ve already read Will’s autobiography, The Feeling’s Unmutual (I thoroughly recommend it), and I recognised immediately that some scenes in Anne Droyd were straight out of his past experiences, for instance, his childhood fascination with smokers and a particularly bad bullying incident. The novel is currently marketed as an “Asperger Adventure,” designed to give affected readers a protagonist that they can really empathise with. Note: the novel’s first publication was not aimed at such a restricted target audience; I don’t want to convey the idea that it’s not aimed at all children, when it is.
I sense a three-act structure to the novel. First, the story charts Gezz, Luke and Malcolm’s experiences of getting to know Anne, followed by Anne’s impact on life at school, and finally a showdown with the bad guys from The Ministry. When reading, I couldn’t help thinking about those multi-part dramas that I used to see on Children’s BBC when I was a kid – often adaptations of novels. Anne Droyd and Century Lodge would make a pretty good one.
The novel is not without a few problems. I felt the pacing was rather slow; some of the more mundane and domestic scenes in the novel were over-developed and took up too much reading time. Sometimes, characters made incredulous decisions, like the police apprehending Professor Droyd at Gezz’s house, then failing to search the property for Anne just because the professor told them she wasn’t there. Kids won’t care about that, of course, but this kind of faux pas does hinder the novel from being appreciated beyond its target audience. Quibbles aside, the author demonstrates a good writing ability that shows a lot of promise. I have to confess, also, that I’m reading well outside my preferred genres on this one. Any children’s literature I do read tends to be the more gritty “young adult” stuff. I think kids will enjoy Anne Droyd.
A sequel, Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows, is due to be published in 2008. Keep up to date with news on the author’s blog.
Kip is a young teenage boy obsessed with getting to the moon. It seems like an unreachable dream until one day a soap company announces a slogan competition with the grand prize of – you guessed it – a trip to the moon. I should state that the novel is set in the future, where mankind has already set up a base on the moon, and travel there is common. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that this is one possible future, from the point of view of the 1950s (when the book was written). Because it actually feels like you’re reading something set in the past. The effect is quite charming, really.
Kip goes to outrageous lengths to win the competition, and ends up coming runner-up. His prize? A genuine used space-suit. When he gets it home, he becomes obsessed with fixing all the faults with it, so that it works just like it did when it was originally up there on the moon. Heinlein goes into great detail on the scientific aspects of the suit. You might think this would make boring reading, but I found it quite stimulating – even more so, when you consider that the book was written when lunar landings hadn’t yet been attempted.
The weakness of the book, for me, comes a little later, from the point where Kip has his very own close encounter with an alien civilisation. The reader is treated to various bug-eyed and tentacled creatures that simply have no place in the imagination of anyone who thinks seriously about what real aliens might possibly be like. And the problem isn’t just the physical descriptions. The aliens’ characters are pretty one-dimensional. There’s the fuzzy, furry, friendly, caring face. The multi-tentacled, angry, evil, we-will-conquer-the-galaxy race. The emotionless, obstinate, we-are-in-charge race. I remember trying to read this novel about fifteen years ago, and as I recall, I stopped when all the creatures started to crawl out of the woodwork. This time I pushed on through, but was slightly disappointment at how the story evolved.
It’s not all bad. The best parts for me were scenes like Kip on board a spaceship trying to walk in low-gravity and slipping all over the place (again, this is made extra special because man had never been to the moon at the time of writing). This is the stuff that made the book interesting. The closing chapters are also fairly dramatic. The book visits the theme of Earth under the scrutiny of alien eyes, in a similar but not identical vein to one of its contemporary films, The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Children are much more forgiving of one-dimensional bug-eyed aliens than adults, and I have to remember that this is a children’s book. I can see young science geeks loving it.
I became interested in Paul Jennings recently as a result of revisiting an old TV series called Round the Twist on DVD. The series is about a family that lives in a lighthouse around which all manner of weird things happen. The episodes are often hilarious, especially when the humour gets a bit, well, filthy. And by that I mean, for example, losing your false teeth down the toilet and having to collect them at the sewage works, then having the clean and wear them. Ugh! This is typical Jennings story material, and it’s a lot of fun.
I believe Unreal! is the author’s first published book. It contains eight stories, five of which I recognise as episode of Round the Twist from seasons one and two, although the television versions have been significantly reworked to revolve around the Twist family. The versions in the book are stand-alone tales. I heard that seasons three and four of Round the Twist weren’t as highly appreciated as the first two, due to Jennings leaving the show. Having just watched season three, I can attest to that. There were a few excellent episodes, but most of them lacked the imagination Jennings brought to the show.
The first story, “Without a Shirt,” is about a boy who can’t help himself adding the words “without a shirt” to the end of every sentence he speaks. Filmed as “Without My Pants” in the TV series.
“The Strap-Box Flyer” is about a travelling con man selling glue that sticks anything … but stops working after four hours.
“Skeleton on the Dunny” is about a boy who uses an outdoor toilet cubicle on which he sometimes finds a ghostly skeleton sitting. Filmed as the pilot episode of the TV series.
“Lucky Lips” is about colourless lipstick that will make any girl kiss you. As you can imagine, it will not be a smooth ride for the wearer. Another one of the TV episodes.
And so on. I enjoyed this book to the degree that it motivated me to attempt writing my own children’s stories. Full of outrageous fun. As an adult, it occasionally made me think, “I can’t believe he just wrote that,” but always with a smirk.
What’s a thirty-four-year-old man doing reading Alice in Wonderland? you might ask. Well, I have a fascination with classic literature, and this is one of the most popular novels. It’s not hard to find references to Alice in modern film and literature: since I’m a sci-fi fan, the character Morpheus in The Matrix is the first one that jumps to my mind. For whatever reason, Alice has stuck in the public’s imagination.
I didn’t find much enjoyment in reading during my pre-adolescent years. Hence, this is the first time I’ve ever read Alice. Can it be enjoyed by an adult? That’s too general a question. Was it enjoyed by this adult? Not overly. It’s a story about a girl who’s sitting by the riverbank with her sister. She spots an odd-looking rabbit; it’s wearing a waistcoat. The rabbit enters a rabbit-hole. Alice goes in after him. She falls and falls, eventually landing on a pile of leaves in a tunnel. What follows is a series of bizarre encounters with characters that range from eccentric to psychopathic (usually talking animals of one kind or another). Alice herself does a lot of growing and shrinking in order to squeeze through small spaces and get from place to place. At one point she creates a lake out of her own tears. Each scene in the story has very little to do with any other, and there is no motivating factor in the story’s progression other than mere curiosity. I am loathe even to call this an adventure, on that basis; it reads more like a child’s acid trip. In the end, the story resorts to the most shameful plot device of all, in order to get Alice home: “It was all a dream.” This just would not fly, if written today.
In fairness, Alice was not written for someone my age, so I should try and ask myself whether I think I would have enjoyed this as a young boy. When I think about what I did like as a boy (Star Wars, Knight Rider, The A-Team), again I have to say no. I suspect Alice is for little girls only (and that’s a place I just can’t take my mind back to!). However, I can’t ignore the fact that there is children’s literature that I do enjoy today. And it’s not all boys’ sci-fi adventures. Take C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The haphazard structure of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland pales by comparison to the carefully woven tapesty of Lewis’s novel. So, I’m sticking to my guns. Alice gets a thumbs down.
The more Robert Swindells novels I read, the more I realise that he has two modes of writing. When he’s writing for young adults, he writes like he’s talking to equals; he talks about the world the way it is; few, if any, subjects are taboo; and bad things can happen to good people, as can happen in the real world. When he writes like this, his fiction is gripping and, I would dare to say, important. Then comes the other mode, writing for children, where the realistic drama disappears and everything turns one-dimensional; the kiddies get safely wrapped in cotton wool.
I know there are some classic novels that are very “safe” books for children, such as Tolkien’s The Hobbit and C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. The characters in these novels are far from realistic, and yet I still enjoyed them. So what exactly is the point I’m trying to make? I can’t put my finger on it, but something vital is missing from Swindells’ novels, when writes for children. Everything just turns to cardboard.
Sadly, The Thousand Eyes of Night was written with kids in mind. It concerns an abandoned railway tunnel, within which killer mice reside. Actually, they’re not real mice; they’re tiny aliens from a doomed planet in orbit around Betelgeuse. I’ve got no problem spoiling that for you, because Swindells spoils it in the first paragraph of the novel. Yes, hiding that fact might have added a sinister air of mystery to the whole story, but Swindells puts all his cards on the table at the start of the game.
The story moves along at a fairly slow pace. Tan (short for Tristan) is the central character. The tunnel is the play area for he and his friends, and the discovery of a dead body with its flesh picked clean to the bone leads them on the trail of the weird mice. The story is padded out with parent troubles and a sub-plot about the local bully. Around page 175 we get to the final showdown, which is practically summarised in only ten pages. It seemed as if the author got bored and wanted things finished quickly.
A disappointing children’s novel from an author I’ve grown to respect a great deal for his contribution to literature for older readers.
Robert Swindells rocks as an author of young adult novels. He writes fiction that is hard-hitting and realistic, filled with true-to-life characters, and endings which are not always happy. Room 13, however, is a childrens book, and unfortunately all those things that make his YA fiction so good disappear here.
OK, so I’m an adult, and that could be part of the problem. I don’t like stories that have a kind of feel to them where you know no one’s going to get seriously hurt or – God forbid – murdered – except maybe the inhuman bad guy. Kids can maybe tolerate that kind of thing. But I’m afraid my dislike of this book runs a bit deeper.
The storyline is unoriginal and predictable. It’s told from the perspective of Fliss, an eleven-year-old girl, who goes on a school trip with her classmates. In the hotel at which they stay, during the night, another girl sleepwalks into a strange room on the top floor, coming back with a bite mark on her neck. At one point, Swindells goes to great pains to describe a huge stick of rock candy, two inches thick, that a schoolboy has sucked and sucked into a point. Anyone out there who’s not already thinking “vampire” and “stake” is probably asleep right now. I suppose a vampire being staked with candy is a new concept, but I was always under the impression it had to be wood.
The drama is divided up with several scenes of the children doing “fun things” on their holiday. Might have been nice to be at those scenic locations, but it made pretty dull reading.
Now comes the part where I have to admit that this novel won the 1990 Children’s Book Award. Don’t ask me to speculate how. I didn’t much like the book, and I’ve tried to qualify that. If you have a place in your heart for ridiculous fiction (that which cares nothing for realism in plot or character), then read this book.
Dinah, an eleven-year-old girl who has spent her whole life in a children’s home, gets fostered by Hunter family, which already sports two young boys, Lloyd and Harvey. Things get off to a rocky start, but the three eventually become loyal friends when forced to confront something terrible that is happening at their school. All the pupils, bar a handful, are the neatest, tidiest, brightest, most well-behaved children you could ever meet. You could also say they’re the most joyless bunch of kids you could ever meet. And what can Lloyd and Harvey do when Dinah starts becoming just like them?
Being a horror movie veteran, my first thought was this is The Stepford Children for a child audience. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, eh? The novel doesn’t score many points on the originality front, but there’s no denying it’s an enjoyable ride. Something dramatic and interesting happens in every chapter. The prose is very snappy and easy to read. Descriptiveness is at about the right level for kids, though sometimes Cross is a little too free with her adverbs. Call me a nit-picker but I wince every time I see an adverb which describes something already glaringly obvious, e.g. “Right, Smart Alec,” Eddie Hair said sarcastically.
Briefly discussed within the story is the idea of there being two kinds of teaching. One, where we are taught to remember a bunch of facts and figures so that we can regurgitate them later, zombie-style. The other type, where we are actively encouraged to think for ourselves and solve problems.
In terms of the characters, I was pleased to see some realistic childhood shortcomings coming through. There was Harvey, the easily scared one, often to the point of tears, and Lloyd, a natural leader constantly jealous for recognition amongst his friends. However, I found it hard to believe any kid would come out with an exclamation like “Suffering crumpets!” or “Scarlet sausages!” or “Plum-coloured pumpkins!” Young Lloyd had a seemingly never-ending supply of these witticisms, which I thought only served to make him a less realistic child.
Despite my niggling criticisms, I found this to be a enjoyable light-hearted read. It’s definitely one for the sub-teen market though, where I have no doubt it will be much loved.
Millions will disagree with me, but – dare I say it? – I don’t think this book is much good. “Can millions of kids be wrong?” you ask. Well, all I can do is offer my personal opinion.
Harry Potter is a boy who is forced to live with a very nasty aunt and uncle because his parents died in a car-wreck when he was an infant – or so they say. The truth of the matter is that his mum and dad were a witch and wizard who were slain by a powerful dark wizard called Voldemort. Soon, Harry is whisked off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and so begins the transformation from an ordinary downtrodden schoolboy into a young, powerful and very famous wizard.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with the initial premise. In fact, kids might be inlined to relate to Harry, in his personal journey out of a horrible life with bad parents and few friends. The trouble is, the story doesn’t contain much in the way of danger to keep the reader interested. Harry walks into his new life, learns this and that, gets into a bit of minor trouble here and there, and it’s very much ho-hum, la-de-dah. The only hint of danger comes from the rumour that Voldemort is still alive somewhere. Rowling waits until the last quarter of the book before she gets this part of the story moving.
The novel also features so many overly used trappings of the fantasy genre. Witches, wizards, pointed hats, magic wands, cauldrens, pet owls, goblins, ghosts, trolls. We’ve seen all these things before, and it’s all tossed into a pretty unoriginal concoction that barely holds together. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of far-fetched stories, but when Rowling on one page wants us to treat death as a serious matter (i.e. Harry’s parents), and on another page shows us a comcial ghost called Nearly-headless Nick, her fantasy world starts tearing apart at the seams. Fair enough, maybe kids don’t look at things as critically or seriously as an adult, but I think it’s a writer’s responsibility not to be a lazy storyteller.
More of this laziness is aparent in the structure of the prose, and this is where I really put my writer’s hat on and get critical. Far too often she uses the most ambiguous or needless adverbs like, “he said darkly”, “she said excitedly.” Usually a person’s words say enough about the manner in which something is spoken without the need for additional words. I’ve been taught that when a writer floods their prose with adverbs, it usually because they are afraid the reader won’t understand them – the “timid writer” syndrome. One of the worst was “He stared unblinkingly upwards”. Unblinkingly is a bad enough word in itself, but doesn’t the act of staring presume your eyes are wide open in the first place? You may say I’m nit-picking; you may say kids don’t care about this kind of thing. All I will say is that it’s a writer’s responsibility to write well.
The writing also sucks on a descriptive level. The book exudes about a tenth of the atmosphere of the movie. One example: remember the goblins at Gringott’s Bank in the movie? Rowling desribes only a fraction of their appearance in a mere two lines of prose, and that’s all we get to go on.
People are already hailing this book as a classic, comparable to C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There’s no doubt that kids took a genuine, honest interest in the Harry Potter series at the beginning, but today I think it’s a living on media hype more than anything. Time will tell whether Harry is here to stay, or whether he’s just a passing fad.
This is the shortest fiction book I’ve ever read, weighing in at just shy of eighty pages with larger-than-usual print to boot. But, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? It’s quality we’re after, rather than quantity, and on the former Blitz delivers.
Robert Westall lived during the Second World War and has written many works of fiction based on his first-hand experience. His fiction is primarily aimed at children, but if this one’s anything to go by, his writing is serious enough to captivate an adult readership.
What we have here is a small collection of four stories about British childhood during the Blitz. The first, “The Ruined City of Kor,” is about two boys who get trapped outdoors during an air-raid and end up investigating a plane-crash. Next in line is “The Thing Upstairs,” about a girl whose father has gone to war and whose mother appears to be going slowly insane. Thirdly, “Operation Cromwell.” This one’s my favourite. It’s the funniest of the bunch. The theme is the problems encountered in black market smuggling during war-time, and the product is, of all things, butter. The fourth tale is called simply “Rosie” and is about a very strange kind of air-raid shelter.
My only disappointment with this book was that none of the stories pack any real surprises in their conclusions. However, they are very entertaining, and at the same time provide children with a vivid picture of what it must have been like to live through the Second World War. I could see a child finding war-time history lessons much more interesting as a result of reading this.