The ‘queen of historical fiction’ is back with a politically charged intertextual response to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl. If you’ve ever wondered what a daring match girl from London’s East End might have made of Anderson’s melancholy tale then Emma Carroll’s latest book will be one for the reading list.
Carroll’s little match girl Bridie rejects the sentimentality of Anderson’s version of her life, defiantly demanding that girls like her want to ‘one day be able to tell our own stories, from our own mouths’. And this is the central tenet of The Little Match Girl Strikes Back; that we can be agents of change in our lives and do not have to stand by as those with more power and influence attempt to silence us. Bridie, it turns out, is instrumental in the famous Match Girls Strike of 1888 at the Bryant and May factory in Bow and Carroll adeptly merges the details of this historical event into her engaging and empowering plot.
The book itself is visually arresting with bold and quirky illustrations provided by Lauren Child, of Charlie and Lola fame. For this book she has chosen a palette of black, white and red, and her depictions of Victorian life mirror the historical accuracy of Carroll’s writing. Both Carroll and Child have written about their inspiration and creative processes at the back of the book, which is a fascinating insight.
The story itself is immensely enjoyable, racing along at speed and vividly recreating the swarming streets of Victorian London inhabited by the many match girls and boys. Bridie is an energetic raconteur; a natural salesperson when it comes to matches and equally adept at making us buy in to her narrative.
This book would suit a young history fan as well as being a great read aloud for a KS2 class learning about the Victorian era (it is pitched just right for Year 4 or 5). It would be wonderful to study in depth after reading Anderson’s original as Carroll has littered her plot with details from his original story. Although set in the past, the book’s themes will resonate with many children growing up in the UK today, including financial inequality, poverty and a striking workforce. Bridie’s final message in the book is one of unity and hope – ‘I realised that people, working together for a purpose, could also achieve magical, magnificent things’ – a powerful message for children to engage with when times are tough.
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