I was delighted and honoured to be invited by Emma Carroll to the launch of her latest book “When We Were Warriors” this week. The love for Emma was quite palpable in a room full of authors, publishers, librarians, teachers and bloggers. This is no surprise given that Emma has progressed from publishing her first book just over five years ago, to now being hailed as the “Queen of Historical Fiction” due to her ability to absolutely pinpoint her target audience and unfailingly deliver wonderful stories which are perfectly pitched at her young readers.
This book is a slight departure in that it is a collection of three short stories, although the historical aspect is still there – they are all set in 1942 during the Second World War. I read my copy on the train home from London, and honestly it filled me with the same warmth as meeting an old friend.
The first story concerns a family of three children, evacuated from Bristol when their house is destroyed, finding themselves billeted with a large group of children at the imposing Frost Hollow Hall deep in the Somerset countryside. This was the setting of Emma’s first novel, which she was promoting the first time I met her, and returning to the landscaped grounds and legendary lake felt like that first trip of the spring to your favourite National Trust house.
In addition to the large group of children, a troop of American soldiers arrive at the stately home in an alarming fashion. Why are they there? And what is the mysterious gift that one of them, Eddie, has brought from America for Tilly Potter the housekeeper? The circumstances, which initially seem to be equally unpopular with the aloof owner of the house and her young evacuees, bring about change in all the protagonists, demonstrating that people can find hidden resources within themselves when unexpected situations arise.
In the second story, we return to Budmouth Point, the small Devon seaside town where evacuees Olive and her brother are still living in the lighthouse with Ephraim Pengilly whilst her older sister lodges with the post mistress. Plans are afoot for a wedding in the town when the preparations are shattered by the twin circumstances of a German body being washed up on the beach (with pockets stuffed with secret papers) and a troop of American soldiers roaring into town. The papers appear to indicate that Ephraim is hiding a dark secret and he is arrested and sent to Plymouth for questioning.
Will Olive’s detective skills be enough to save her sister’s fiancee? Can an improvised army of villagers armed with garden tools defend their beach from a stealth attack? Is it possible for brave, determined and resourceful children to outwit enemy spies? Read this book to find out if it is really true that “Anything’s possible.”
The third and final story, Operation Greyhound, takes place in Plymouth. Velvet and her school-friends Lynne and Mo have grown accustomed to the almost nightly Luftwaffe raids on Plymouth and are familiar with the routine of spending nights packed into the Barton Street air raid shelter with their neighbours and an assortment of pet dogs, hens, cats, budgies and even a tortoise. However, when their friendly Air Raid Warden, Mr Perks, goes to stay with his sister for some respite, his replacement, Mr Jackson, issues a new set of rules which ban animals from the shelter. Velvet decides that she must do something to ensure the safety of the local pets and arranges with Mo that the cellar of his parents’ house can be their new shelter. When she finds herself outside during an air raid along with an injured US soldier, it is to Mo’s cellar that she turns for safety. Once there, the pet-owning neighbours tend to the soldier’s head wound and Velvet discovers that he is a kindred spirit.
Unfortunately, the night-time visitors leave far to much mess behind and realise that the Hussein’s cellar is not the solution to their requirement for a pet-friendly shelter. A chance conversation with Mr Perks leads Velvet to an unusual alternative, and is eventually named Operation Greyhound! Once again, this story demonstrates the resourcefulness of brave and determined children.
All three stories are linked by one character and themes of friends, family and hope. They celebrate difference and not rushing to judgement based on first impressions. Emma Carroll proves that she is every bit as talented at short story writing as she is at novels. For long term fans like me, it is super to re-acquaint with some of her earlier characters – although I could happily do without being reminded of carrot fudge! However, even if you have never read one of her books before I am sure that you will enjoy this collection of stories. I can see this book becoming a huge favourite for KS2 children studying WWII, and the theme of misinformation in the second story would make an interesting discussion point when learning how to be discerning about information as part of the KS2 Computing curriculum. When We Were Warriors gets a huge recommendation from me, I hope you will love it too!