A dyslexia friendly middle-grade war story that demonstrates why Emma Carroll’s historical novels are so very popular.
Strange and uncomfortable things are happening around Fran. Her father has been Head Gardener at Longbarrow House for two years and in that time she’s found lots of lost objects – clays pipes, bits of china, a pretty hat pin, and even a shilling piece. However, this year is different. First, her fork breaks what looks frighteningly like a human bone on the same afternoon that Mrs Walker’s grandson, Leo, breaks his leg. Then she finds a small china baby only hours before her mother reveals she is pregnant. Is the garden trying to send her messages? And, if it is, what is the significance of the ghost army that Fran and Leo encounter?
Despite being a prolific reader of children’s books, I’m ashamed to admit this is the first book by Emma Carroll that I’ve read. This might be because I’m less keen on historical fiction but it’s more likely because I’m usually battling to keep up with the books I’ve pledged to review and her books are so hugely successful that review copies are like gold dust. I was, therefore, thrilled to obtain a review copy of Emma’s Barrington Stoke debut and now understand first-hand why her books are so very popular.
I was gripped from the opening line (‘Fran found the bone in the potato patch’) and impressed by the level of detail and emotion that even the simplest sentences managed to convey. (Not that I should be surprised as Barrington Stoke specialise in accessible books that can help reluctant and dyslexic readers unlock the love of reading).
By the end of chapter one, Fran is unsettled and unable to shake the feeling that something is wrong and I was right there with her. Indeed, I was so absorbed I read the entire book in one sitting (although, admittedly, it is only 78 pages long).
While the ghostly element of the plot is intriguing, it is the world building that is most impressive. (It’s not difficult to see why Emma Carroll is widely acknowledged to be the Queen of historical fiction for middle grade readers). The story is set in 1914 and the shadow (or should it be the foreshadow) of the First World War hangs over the book. However, it also brought me a sense of an earlier time. The secretive exploration of the garden and the challenges of Leo’s bath chair has echoes of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden (although Fran is, without doubt, a much more appealing heroine that Mistress Mary). This is, perhaps, because both books are at heart character driven stories about the importance of friendship.
If you enjoyed this and are looking for another middle grade First World War story, why not try Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer or his powerful Second World War story, D-Day Dog. These two brilliant books are both part of Barrington Stoke’s super-readable dyslexia-friendly series. Alternatively, you might want to try another of Emma Carroll’s bestselling wartime stories such as Letters from the Lighthouse or When We Were Warriors.
Publication date: July 2020
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Author’s website: Emma Carroll