My first Longer Read of the Week after half term is Emma Carroll’s Letters from the Lighthouse, published by Faber & Faber.
What it’s about: In February 1941, Olive (12) is evacuated to the town of Budmouth Point in Devon, with her younger brother Cliff, after being injured in an air raid. She stays with a woman who she thinks is her older sister Sukie’s ‘penpal’ and is determined to find out what happened to her the night of the raid, when Sukie went missing. However, the truth is hard to access as Queenie, Sukie’s penpal, will not reveal what she is doing until something dramatic occurs and she, and Ephraim, the lighthouse keeper who takes in Olive and Cliff, needs Olive’s help.
My review: I was a little late to this book – it’s been on my ‘to be read’ pile for a long time, but I devoured it in one day. I love children’s books about World War II and this did not disappoint in its depiction of the time, the daily dangers that civilians faced even outside of London, and the predicament of the evacuees, although in this book they are treated more kindly than in other stories I have read.
What made this story different – and this is a bit ‘spoilery’ – is how it also looks at the situation of refugees fleeing persecution. Esther is one of them, in England after coming over as part of the Kindertransport, and this has striking parallels with much of what we are seeing and hearing about nowadays – refugees risking their lives seeking safety in boats that are too small to accommodate them. You cannot read this book and not be unaware of the similarities, despite the fact that we are living in peacetime.
Letters from the Lighthouse was a cracking adventure that children aged 8-12 would find exciting to read. Olive is very reminiscent of Carrie in Nina Bawden’s modern classic Carrie’s War in her bravery and determination, though thankfully she lives with nicer people than poor Carrie and her brother had to endure. Olive is a wonderful heroine for young readers – she is determined, honest and just. A great companion to read after this would be the late Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and I have no doubt that this novel will take its place alongside similar classics by Nina Bawden, Robert Westall, and Michael Morpurgo.