This adventure novel, set in World War 2, is about friendship, triumph over adversity and resilience.
It is the summer of 1940 and Tommy lives with his three Aunts and young niece on a farm in Woundale in the Lake District. His father is missing in action, and his best friend, Sally, is a mischievous and fearless evacuee from Tyneside. In the opening sentences, the two children come across a German airman who has parachuted from his plane which has been shot down. It is Sally who decides they must keep the airman’s whereabouts a secret and protect him, but this won’t be easy. Sally’s sponsor, Mr Scarcross, a gruff bully, was a soldier who fought in World War 1 and he and the local Home Guard are intent on finding the missing navigator. Together the children seek to keep the airman’s whereabouts a secret, and this sets off a chain of events which changes their lives.
Initially, the plot appears straightforward, but it is the relationship between Tommy and Sally which holds the magic to this story. Tommy is a loyal and honest boy. Sally is witty, persuasive and secretive. The cruelty she suffers at the hands of Mr Scarcross and her impoverished background is offset against her character’s resilience and humour. I counted sixteen different plays on Scarcross’ name in her references to him: Stinkcross, Scarecrow, Skunkcross… each is funny and apt. The unfolding of Sally’s story and the close friendship between these children, and the silent Simon is a pleasure. Secondary characters are well-formed and central to the unfolding of the plot. Tommy’s love and respect for wise Aunt Annie is touching.
Tulloch’s writing is rich and accessible. In the beginning, Tommy, our narrator, explains Sally’s dialect to us, when necessary, offering definitions for Geordie vocabulary which might be unfamiliar. At one point, the children’s unkind teacher, Miss Gently rattles through the timetables, beating her long ruler like ‘an auctioneer watching farmers at a cattle sale.’ Wordsworth’s Daffodils is a fitting reference and motif, revealing Sally’s delight in the rural landscape around her. Descriptions of country life and of the Fells demonstrate tenderness, and the Cumbrian countryside is almost another secondary character, but these descriptions aren’t laboured.
There is a neatness to the ending, but I think it can be forgiven – this is a children’s novel after all. It’s suitable for Key Stage 2 readers and would make an enjoyable read aloud. But there is plenty for teachers and adults to explore with readers including underlying themes of prejudice and poverty.
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