#MGTakesOnThursday – The Valley of Lost Secrets

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

I’m so glad to be joining in with #MGTakesOnThursday again. It’s ages since I’ve managed to do it, but I’m determined to join in more regularly again this year.

My choice today seemed like a good one, as its the first book I’ve read this year out of choice. It should also have been Children’s Book of the Month at work…well, it technically is CBOTM at work but I’m not there to rave about it, so this seems like a good place to do that instead!

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr, audiobook read by Iestyn Arwel/physical copy illustrated by David Dean, published by Bloomsbury

I love a wartime children’s book and this has shot into my favourites.

We join brothers Jimmy and Ronnie as they are evacuated from Islington in London to Llanbryn, a small village in the Welsh valleys.

Jimmy is set on protecting, comforting and reassuring his little brother, but as they settle into life in the valley, it’s Jimmy who struggles with homesickness and his sense of loyalty and belonging.

The story is centred on the mysterious discovery Jimmy makes when he finds a skull in the hollow of a tree, but it’s really about so much more than that – bullying, belonging, friendship and family; home and change and growth; the ways in which we judge, treat and label others as well as the ways we can show patience and care and offer chances for them to bloom.

There’s some absolutely fantastic characters in this – Ronnie is joyous, Jimmy complex, the Evanses utterly hateful (honestly they had my blood boiling!). I loved Florence (and by extension Phyllis and Ieuan) and I think maybe Alun Thomas was my favourite of all.

The way the mystery of the skull is underpinned by a bigger mystery closer to home in the Thomas household was so well done – the way it built subtly then wove seamlessly in.

The richness of the setting and the history and culture of it were gorgeous to read, utterly transporting me. Lesley Parr mentions David Almond as a favourite author at the back of this and that really shows through – there are unmistakable echoes of his talent for capturing a place and its community in this.

I listened to the majority of this on audiobook and the narration was perfect – exactly how being read aloud to should be; I too was taken straight to the heart of this little village.

I loved that the president of the Mining Institute was Mr Bevan and that one of the most important, yet seemingly minor, characters was Aneurin, or Nye. Surely a tip of the hat to the NHS legend Nye Bevan who came from a Welsh mining village himsrlf. I’d love to know for certain if this was intentional, but I feel it must have been, surely?

I also loved the details and small extras in the illustrations – the way the chapter headers developed through the book and the secret message too.

Everything about this book has been beautifully crafted and carefully considered. It’s a stunning piece of storytelling set off beautifully by its illustration, design and/or audiobook narration.

I’m so, so excited already to see Lesley Parr has a new book, also set in Wales, this time post-WW1. I absolutely cannot wait. Til then, I’m off to listen to Every Valley by Public Service Broadcasting on repeat.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

I can feel the place swallowing is up – my little brother, all the others and me.

This book in three words:

Family. Home. History.