My Lockdown Books: Fifty Four

I have five books by Gordon Cooper.  As far as I have been able to find out that’s all he wrote.  A Time in a City, like all the others in my collection, is an ex-library book (although I did once have a paperback edition of An Hour in the Morning) which is fitting as that’s how I first read them.

Kate Bassett, a young teenager, has left her first post as general maid in a farm house and is now working in the nearest town to her home.  She’s the kitchen maid and, as such, a person of little account,  However, supported by the cook and the parlour maid, she settles in to life in the home of the Bourne family.  Set in the early days of the First World War, we also see Kate working in a soldiers’ canteen on her day off.

I can’t say that Gordon Cooper is the world’s best writer but I loved these books as a child and I have been known to read them still.  He has an engaging way of bringing history to life for young people  I suspect that might have been his brief from the Oxford University Press.  If anyone can tell me anything about Gordon Cooper, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

My Lockdown Books: Fifty One

David Almond is a deceptively brilliant writer.  His syntax is simple, although his vocabulary is not, but sentence upon sentence it builds up to an unexpected crescendo before you are hit by an explosion, the impact of which leaves you overwhelmed by emotion.

War is Over is set in 1918 as the Great War is coming to an end.  It’s the story of John, a boy whose father is fighting in France and whose mother is working in a munitions factory.  The plot is slight but it raises complex questions of right and wrong, war and peace.  When John finds a picture of a German boy his own age, he is forced to question the war itself.  The Germans, he begins to feel, are people like him and his family – but can he like people who are trying to kill his father?  Is Gordon, the conscientious objector, right?

The book is illustrated by David Litchfield and the power of his drawings is immense.  Somehow, using only black and white, he is able to depict aggression and gentleness, to conjure up changing seasons and moods.

My Lockdown Books: Twenty Three

You were expecting Anne of the Island, weren’t you?  I’m not surprised as I’ve cited it as one of my favourite books, never mind my favourite book by LM Montgomery.  That remains true but Rilla of Ingleside is a book that’s fascinated me since I first read it as a child.  And, of course, there’s so much of interest in it that it stands reading again and again (in common with much of Lucy Maud’s output).

First and foremost for me as an adult reader, it’s a Great War story and I have a particular fondness for those.  What I love especially about it is that it’s a home front story.  And it’s the Canadian home front which makes it unlike novels depicting the British home front which is what appears in most books I’ve read.  The war isn’t just over there; it’s on another continent.  There’s no chance of soldiers or nurses coming home on leave.  So there is distance, both geographically and in the perception of what is taking place in Europe.

It’s also a coming-of-age novel.  Rilla is the youngest child of Anne and Gilbert Blythe.  She’s a bit spoilt, certainly immature and desperate to be grown up and taken seriously.  She’s fifteen at the outbreak of war and the most important thing in her life is what Kenneth Ford thinks of her.  By the end of the war and book she has changed as most teenagers will but some of that change is due to the personal and national impact of the Great War.

First published in 1921, Rilla of Ingleside was written very soon after the war ended when Canada, as other countries, was coming to terms with the conflict and dealing with the after effects.  I’m not a historian but I think that gives us a less revisionist view of life and sentiment on the home front.  LM Montgomery was, of course, to some extent limited by what her publisher would accept in a novel for young people.  But she does show some of the different ways the war was viewed in a small community.  The book is layered and I know that I read it differently now than I did when I acquired my first copy (with Kim Braden on the front cover) in 1981.

Lily and the Rockets by Rebecca Stevens

I understand that some women are playing in a football competition somewhere. Honestly, I do know what the competition is but I genuinely have no idea where it’s being played. It’s fair to say that I am pretty disinterested in football irrespective of the gender of the teams. So it’s a mark of my appreciation of Rebecca Stevens’ other books that I chose to read Lily and the Rockets.

The novel is set towards the end of the Great War and revolves around Lily Dodd, a teenager working at the Woolwich Arsenal making weapons destined for the Western Front. Lily is also passionate about playing football, something women had the opportunity to do whilst the professional men’s game was suspended for the duration.

This is not a complex novel but it is engaging and it shines a light on the women’s game as well as on a little-mentioned aspect of the First World War. In truth it matters not at all whether or not the reader is interested in football. Lily is a believable and likeable character and the story clips along.