Anyone who has followed my blog, or followed me on Twitter for any length of time will know that I am a huge fan of Emma Carroll’s writing. I also spent many hours reading Lauren Child’s picture books, chapter books and MG series with my youngest, so I was obviously going to purchase a copy of The Little Match Girl Strikes Back with the greatest expectation of enjoyment. It genuinely exceeded my expectations! I literally could not put it down until I had devoured the entire story, this is one of the finest collaborations between writer and illustrator that I have seen and I am so delighted that it renders Emma Carroll’s extraordinary brand of historical fiction into a format enjoyable for a slightly younger age group. This re-imagining of the classic fairy tale is perfectly pitched for readers of 7/8+ with short, pacey chapters; lots of white space between the text and those “striking” illustrations!
As you would expect from this author, the story is recounted in the first person by Bridie Sweeney, a young girl living in poverty with her mother and younger brother Fergal in the East End of London in the Victorian era. From her opening statement you immediately get the impression that Bridie has a spark of rebellion and a desire to improve the situation in which her family exists. She is fully aware of the injustice in the dangerous and exploitative working conditions that her mam and the other female workers at the Bryant & May match factory have to toil under. It does not shy away from the direct impact that working with white phosphorus had on the workers’ health and the way that this inconvenient fact was ignored by the factory owners. The research that has gone into this narrative is worn lightly, the tale lays out the stark contrast between rich and poor and the daily grind for survival in an environment where the poorest appear to have very little agency to improve their lives.
Based on actual historical events, this story combines elements of fairytale into Bridie’s story with stunning effect. The contribution of Lauren Child’s distinctive illustrations beautifully highlights the power of one bright spark to illuminate a dark world. Bridie’s flaming red hair stands out on every black and white spread, and scattered throughout the text are red-tipped matches or red flames as the smouldering embers of resentment flare into protests and strikes. I don’t want to give away the ending or too much of the plot, but will simply say that this would make a fantastically inspiring present for any child of 7 and above. I can imagine that it will be greatly loved in primary schools and I hope that it will be received by many children in their Christmas stockings and perhaps shared as a family story. As we appear to be plunging back into glaring economic inequality, its empowering message will perhaps bring some hope for better times.
2 thoughts on “Review: The Little Match Girl Strikes Back written by Emma Carroll, illustrated by Lauren Child”
A wonderful review Veronica. I listened to the audiobook of this, and loved the messages of empowerment (definitely pertinent) and the magical elements.
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