Author: Michael Morpurgo
Publisher: London: HarperCollins, 2005.
Genre: Middle Grade, fiction
Audience Age: 9 – 12 years old
Themes/topics: World War II, adventure, friendship
Opening Sentences: I first read Grandma’s letter over ten years ago, when I was twelve. It was the kind of letter you don’t forget. I remember I read it over and over again to be sure I’d understood it right. Soon everyone else at home had read it too.
Synopsis: A young boy is sent an amazing story by his grandmother, Lily. In the story, she tells of when she was his age, and the area of England where she lived was taken over by the American Army to be used as a training place in preparation for the D-Day invasion of Europe. All the people in the area had to leave, whether they wanted to or not – her grandfather didn’t want to.
As it turned out, neither did her beloved cat, Tips. After the family, Mum, Grandfather, and Lily, had moved everything out of their house and had crammed themselves into Uncle George’s house and farm just outside the barbed wire barricade of the training area, Tips went missing.
Lily, desperate to find her cat, crawled under the coiled barbed wire to search for her. An African American soldier whom she’d befriended found her, scolded her soundly – it was very dangerous to be in that area, and civilians were forbidden – but promised to try to find Tips for her.
Written in first person, the book has an immediacy and realness that touches the heart and mind. The reader feels Lily’s desperation, worry, and loneliness. We feel the confusion and fear that were a part of daily life in wartime Britain, along with the wrenching sorrow of knowing a loved one was not coming back from the war, or knowing that a loved place would never be the same again. We also feel the joy of growing friendships, of new experiences, of renewed hope.
A London evacuee, a boy named Barry, comes to live with the family, and so we also learn what evacuees had to deal with. They were not always welcomed with open arms, and it was a difficult transition for many.
I have seen film footage of D-Day training exercises on TV and in movies, but had never thought that people had been ordered off their land and out of their homes so that the Army and Navy would have a suitable space for their training. This book brought home to me that stark reality, in a way that was manageable.
Kids reading this book will be able to understand history in a way they might not have done before. The story makes the history real and human. Despite the fear and sorrow, there is an underlying foundation of hope and resilience, which strengthens the book and the reader as well. The book is fiction, but it is fiction based on fact. This evacuation really did take place. The author obviously did careful research.
I highly recommend this book, for kids, and for adults.
For Further Enrichment: This BBC site shows kids what it was like for children their age during World War II, telling about evacuees, about rationing, about air raids – so many things that are hard to imagine living through and dealing with.
The UK site Schools History provides an action maze where kids need to make decisions as if they were preparing for D-Day.
The author’s website has an excerpt of the audiobook.
Availability: Check your library! It’s also available on Kindle or Nook, and is available in paperback in England.