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Friday, 11 October 2013


Having read Penny’s August blog about, among other titles, Vinnie’s war by David McRobbie (published 2011), I was inspired to read it myself.  And yes, I found it very rewarding.
I was brought to consider, yet again, how fertile a source of inspiration human conflict has been for writers over the centuries.  It is an enormous irony that death, displacement, injury, can provide such inspiration for literature.

And that, and Vinnie’s story, reminded me of Michelle Magorian and her novels set in the Britain of World War II and immediately after.  So I looked for my copies of Goodnight Mister Tom and Back home (I had to borrow a library copy of one of them, as I couldn’t find mine….).

Goodnight Mister Tom is Michelle’s first publication (1981), and it won the Guardian Award and the International Reading Association Award; a good start for a writer!  Back home came out in 1985 and is rather more polished, with the occasional sentimentality of Goodnight Mister Tom having been weeded out.

Both books deal with child evacuees and the culture shock they experience through their removal from their families and their lives as evacuees.  Willie is a child from the London slums, with none of the family support and love which was able to ameliorate the deprived conditions in which such children lived.  His new home is in a country village, where physical conditions are just as bleak, but the care and affection he experiences in the community enable him to turn his life around.  So for him, separation from his mother through forced evacuation to the country is a life-changing opportunity and advantage.

Rusty, the heroine of Back home, was evacuated to the USA at the beginning of the war – her family is upper middle-class and well-to-do.  However, her five years in America in the consumer society there insulate her from the conditions which those who stayed behind in Britain endured during the war years.  The drama of her story stems not only from the shock she experiences in returning to an England which is still enduring rationing, but also from the differences between her relaxed and loving family life in the US and the  stiff and narrow requirements of her own family to which she returns.  The adjustments required of her as a returning evacuee potentially result in an uncertain future.

Any teacher exploring the history of World War II would find these books of interest to a class of upper primary/lower secondary students, providing opportunities for enthusiastic discussion in many areas.

Patsy Jones

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