My aim for 2019 is to recommend a children’s middle grade fiction book each month, so here goes. January’s recommendation is The Skylarks War, by Hilary McKay.
Although it’s aimed at children aged 9-12, The Skylarks War is a book that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Set in the time leading up to and during the First World War, it is a beautifully written, poignant and moving tale.
Clarry and her older brother, Peter, have no home life to speak off. Their mother died just after Clarry was born, and their father, though a provider for the family, is absent in every other way. He leaves his own mother to do much of the caring in the children’s early years, before she has to return to her home in Cornwall to tend to her sick husband.
From then on, the children are sent to Cornwall every summer to stay with the grandparents, something that both come to live for. Summers in Cornwall, with cousin, Rupert, himself left in the grandparents’ care when his parents moved to India, hold special memories for the children.
Clarry, growing up in the early 1900’s, realises the opportunities for girls and the expectations put upon them, are different than those for boys, but she fights against that. Both clever and hardworking, she earns a place at a grammar school and sets her sights on a scholarship to Oxford. Rupert and Peter, on the other hand, are reluctant boarding school pupils, who cannot wait until the day they can leave.
Finding solace in her studies, and with a few close friends, Clarry begins to navigate the complexities of growing up, but life takes a new turn when the war breaks out and Rupert joins the army. His letters are a constant source of comfort to Clarry, but the longer he is away for, the fewer letters she receives.
Throughout this time, we hear Rupert’s side of the story, the true horror of the war and a reality that few back home knew anything about. Rupert spends many years at the frontline and as a consequence, is never the same again. In fact, for all the characters in the story, childhoods are abandoned quicker than they would have liked and those memories of long lazy summers in Cornwall, although not forgotten, seem very distant indeed.
This is such a lovely story, when I was reading it, I could actually imagine it as a film!
There are lots of books set in World War Two, but less from the time of the First World War. More so, The Skylarks War isn’t about the war itself, but how life was for the people living during that time, with only a glimpse of the war through Rupert’s eyes.
On both accounts, that makes for a very interesting read.
If you enjoy historical fiction and stories set in World War One, please check out the first book in my time travelling series, Time School.
The story gives readers a vivid glimpse into the trials and tribulations of life on the Home Front during the First World War, from the fears for relatives fighting overseas through to the more daily practicalities such as food shortages and children having to take on jobs in their home as their mothers went out to work to fill the roles vacated by the men away at war. The differences between schooling now and then feature heavily too.
It is an ideal story to introduce young children to important time periods in history in a way that helps them experience a small slice of it themselves through the characters.
By featuring contemporary teenagers experiencing some of the highs and lows of the period, the contrast between their lives in 2018 and that of their fellow pupils in 1918 ensures the book is immediately relatable to younger readers.