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May 2019



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The Skylarks’ War, Hilary McKay

This children’s book is the best thing I’ve read all month and will probably be one of my books of the year. I’ve been a great admirer of Hilary McKay since first reading The Exiles years ago and this book is what you’d expect from her: well written and full of characters you care about. The story begins in the early years of the twentieth century, which fills the adult reader with the dread of foreknowledge. First, there’s Peter and Clarry, brother and sister living with their distant and uncaring father in a cold and neglected house. The children live for their annual visit to their grandparents in Cornwall, where they find sun, sea and endless happy days with their cousin Rupert, a golden boy. Later, there’s Simon, ‘the bony one’, Peter’s schoolfriend and Simon’s sister Vanessa, who becomes Clarry’s best friend. The relations between these five children take the story into their adulthood.

Clarry is an adorable heroine. She’s loving, even when she gets little return for her love from an indifferent father and bad-tempered brother and unquestioningly accepting of the hardness of her life. Luckily, after meeting Vanessa, she determines to go to the Grammar School, where she turns out to be clever. Her father considers education for girls a waste of time but with the help of teachers and Peter, Clarry learns to be ambitious. Poor girl; she’s so badly dressed, so naïve, so anxious to help and please everyone. This makes her sound like a horrid little prig but she so isn’t.

By the time war breaks out, only Rupert is old enough to fight. The others are all still at school and Peter can never be a soldier because of a crippled leg. Life on the home front consists of endless making do, worrying, writing letters to the front and for Vanessa, nursing. Naturally, no one at home can imagine the horrors of the Western Front and Rupert does not enlighten them. Tragedy, humour, love and friendship are all mixed together in a very enjoyable way.

I do have a caveat. The publishers aim this book at nine to eleven-year-olds. When I was nine I had frightened myself reading Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist but most of my fiction reading consisted of happy family stories by Monica Edwards, Noel Streatfeild and Jane Shaw. How would I have coped with slaughtered horses, massacred men and homosexuality? I can’t imagine. Modern children are more exposed to horrors than we were and it’s up to parents to decide whether a book like this is nightmare-inducing or life-enhancing. I think the latter.

I read this thanks to the publishers and NetGalley and it will be out on 20th September. Only a month to wait!




just reserved from library----
Thanks for the tip off.I rarely read childrens books but this looks good.And no library reserve fee as its a junior book.

Re: thanks

I do recommend the Exiles and Casson series. I find people of any generation can enjoy them.

Thank you

Sounds like an interesting read but not for 9 year olds! The library have it on order so I've added my name to the waiting list hope it doesn't frighten this 63 year old!
Sue at the cottage at the end of a lane

Re: Thank you

I worry about those nine-year-olds but not about you :-)
A waiting list already? Shows how popular HM is.
Aaaaaaah another Hilary McKay! Brilliant. She is one of the few authors where I always buy a hardcopy as soon as it comes out.
I'll probably buy one, even though I got a free Kindle copy!


Alternate title

Is this the same book that is due out in the US soon using the title Love to Everyone?

Re: Alternate title

I just checked the US Amazon site and yes, it is the same book.


Re: Alternate title

Thank you! I thought as much. Why, oh why do they have to change the titles? I hope they didn't change the text. I suppose I should go to The Book Depository and get the UK version.

Re: Alternate title

Why, oh why do they have to change the titles?

Why indeed? And the cover. If you do buy the book, I hope you like it as much as I did.

It is.

I wouldn't call homosexuality a horror :P
Of course, I didn't mean to imply that it was! That could have been better worded; I wondered after posting if someone would take me up on it :-) What I meant was that at that age I had no idea any such thing existed. We really were incredibly innocent.

I loved this. I talk to Hilary on twitter and she kindly sent me a review copy. I read it in one sitting until 2am.

How lovely! She seems really nice.

So glad you liked it as much as I did.