I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this from the publishers. All views and opinions are my own.
I received this at work as it’s our Children’s Book of the Month for November, and I can’t help but feel a bit gutted that it’s not going to get the push it really deserves with us being shut.
Yes, there’s our online message, and word of mouth, and of course the wonderful world of book twitter, but this is one that is both timely and brilliant and one which I’d have been pressing into palms left, right and centre.
I will just have to do the best I can here and shout about it all the more when we reopen!
Put simply, this is one of the best World War 2 books I’ve read in a long time.
Always a hot topic in children’s literature, there’s a plethora of war themed books already, all with a different slant and many of which are favourites of mine.
So to choose a theme so well-mined already and come up with something so unique, so well pitched, so historically accurate and still so relevant today, not to mention so entertaining, magical and hopeful too, is really something and a huge credit to Ross Montgomery’s engaging writing style, meticulous research and understanding of his audience.
Col has been evacuated to live with his Aunt Claire after his dad dies during the war. His sister, Rose, has stayed behind in London to help the war effort but they have agreed to spend Christmas together. When Christmas comes but Rose doesn’t, Col sets off to find her.
Stopping at the cottage they always spent Christmas at, he finds his childhood imaginary friends come very much to life, having returned to protect him from The Midwinter King who has taken control of the Spirit World and has devastating plans for this one too.
I went into this a little hesitantly, expecting a mix of Narnia (which I loved as a child), Land of Roar (which – sorry! – I wasn’t a huge fan of) and some sort of war story. I didn’t really know how it would, or indeed could, work. But, oh it does!
The balance struck between fantasy, history and personal drama is perfect. Likewise, the blend of humour and more serious and emotive messages is just right.
The characters themselves are brilliant, and all with their own unique personalities, strengths and flaws.
The relationship between Mr Noakes (Badger in a waistcoat) and King of Rogues (faithful knight in shining armour) is such a great one, with brilliant bickering and superb sniping between these two friends.
Likewise, the relationship between King of Rogues and newcomer to the group, Ruth, is wonderful. The way their mistrust of each other, and her confident exterior proving a match for his self-importance is great fun to read, and it’s equally lovely to see them gradually accept each other as the story develops.
Ruth was definitely my favourite character in the book and I loved the way her inclusion helped bring another aspect of the war (the persecution of Jewish people and the Kindertransport) to the book. Her story really adds extra depth and breadth to the book, and the role her celebration of Chanukah plays in delivering the message of hope the book carries is very effective too.
I thought the way the historical elements of the book were brought in were excellent too, and the use of real newspaper articles was brilliant. This has clearly been extremely closely and keenly researched, with many little details and lesser known facts really bringing this into its own, as well as adding to the humorous aspects of the book (Mock Banana I’m looking at you!)
It also does a great job at making the war relevant today in its messages about power, dark times, hope and togetherness.
The fantastical elements were brilliant too. We meet talking trees (who will have you in stitches), squabbling giants and easily distracted fairy folk, not to mention the formidable Midwinter King and Green Man themselves. There is a huge array of fantasy folk and magic places, but the story never loses its very human heart.
(And for Labyrinth fans, there’s an absolute gem of a showdown you’ll love!)
This is a book with truly broad appeal. It’s wartime setting will price popular with children at home, aswell as in school libraries, class reads and as a stimulus for wartime topic work.
With themes of family, friendship, loss and hope it is both sensitive and moving, whilst its magical and humorous elements bring levity and a touch of fantasy.
It is a book which draws on much of what has gone before and makes it absolutely and completely it’s own. One of a kind.