Sunday 22 April 2012

113. Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
Published March 2012 Penguin

From the publisher:

Three children have been sent to live in the countryside, safe from the war in London. When they find two boys hiding in a castle, the past and future come together to make an extraordinary adventure. 

Sonya Hartnett is an amazing writer of literary fiction for children, she is the winner of the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world's largest prize for children's and youth literature.  

It goes without saying then, that when you pick up a new Sonya Hartnett novel, you know you are in for a treat. Picking up The Children of the King was like going back in time, not only is the story set in England during WW2, but it is a cloth (feels like it anyway) covered hardback that feels like a book published in the 1940s.  
The story is about Cecily(12), her brother Jem(14) and their Mother who have left London for the safety of the English country side.  Unlike other evacuee children they leave as a family , and on arriving at their destination a number of evacuee get of the train with them. Cecily thinks that taking an evacuee with them is the right thing to do.  So, much like choosing a kitten in the pet shop Cecily chooses May, and she goes with them to ....

Here the children don't go to school, but spend their days exploring and the nights hearing all about the sometimes gruesome history of the mysterious Snow Castle that's ruin sit on the property.  There is something mysterious about the two boys that Cecily and May have seen there, they are very odd, and dressed in clothes that would be more suited to a pantomime?

This book is a lot of things.  It's a historical novel set during WW2, with the added history behind the story that their Uncle Peregrine tells them.  I must admit to not knowing about Richard III and the 'princes in the tower', but I certainly went and looked it up when I finished the book.  It's also a coming of age story, for Jem, being 14 and not old enough to fight, and (he feels) too old to do nothing, he struggles with what bravery, honour and doing the right thing. There is also a more light hearted side with the character of Cecily.  I spent a lot of time feeling for her, because she has no filter and constantly says what comes to mind with no thought as to what she is saying and how people will take it.

The way in which it is written also takes you back, with memories of the Railway Children and Goodnight Mr Tom.  I have already had a librarian tell me that, 'It looks and sounds like an old fashioned book, and the kids just won't pick it up'.  As much as I loved this book, I don't completely disagree.  It may only be a small portion of your library borrowers that choose this book just based on the cover and the blurb, but it is a book that you need to read and tell people about, and then they will want to read it.  Give it to your classroom teachers and get them to read it out loud.  I can completely understand why this book may be overlooked by children when it is sitting on a New Release shelf next to Andy Griffiths, Geronimo Stilton, Harry Potter and the like, but that, to me is even more reason to have it on the shelf, the really good stuff won't ever be read if it's not there to read.   I have found so many times that librarians tell me how in demand literary authors become after a teacher has read a novel to the class, and they have loved the story and want to read more by the same author.  That is what this book is all about.

I apologise for using this book for what seems to have become a 'soap box' moment, I don't mean to single it out.  It just makes me think of authors like David Almond, Michael Morpurgo (although not so much anymore) that tell amazing stories, and these are not the books that fly off the shelves.

I hope I haven't raved too much, and I must say I am far from a book snob, I will read the literary and the trashy, but I can read anything because of the teacher's who read to me in primary school, who introduced me to books I would never have picked up on my own.  It tell people that I don't actually have memories of my family reading to me as a child, but I do remember my Year 7 teacher reading to me...I know teachers are busy, but sharing books and stories is a joy, and if you chose the right ones, can make memories that last a lifetime.

That's all....sermon over :)

Who will like this book: Boys and girls age 10+
Read it if you like: a good 'old fashioned' story

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