Monday, 21 April 2014

The First Georgians by Imogen Robertson

Gerorge I, King of Great Britain and Ireland, Elector


Britain is going 18th century crazy. I know that because I read it in The Times. 

We have good reason to take this chance to pay a bit more attention to this crucial and often over-looked period of British history. 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian Succession when the British Crown, after doing a surprising number of back-flips through the family tree and landing on the lap of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, slid thence onto the head of her eldest son Georg Ludwig, who became George I on the death of Queen Anne. 


Just to confirm how important this is, Lucy Worsely is presenting a series on BBC4 about the Georgians starting on 1 May, the Historic Royal Palaces are having a Glorious Georges Season; the V&A are focussing on the leading architect of the period, William Kent and the music of Handel is going to be everywhere.  

If you want to be part of the cognoscenti, then I heartily recommend a visit to The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714-1760 at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. I also recommend a certain series of brilliant mysteries set towards the end of the century, but that probably doesn’t come as a great shock. Theft of Life is out 22 May, by the way.

A Natural History of English Insects
Eleazar Albin (c. 1680- c. 1742)
Writing for this blog brings many pleasures, and this time it was the chance to have breakfast at Buckingham Palace and get a preview of the exhibition in the company of its curators, including Desmond Philip Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures. He's a brilliant communicator, and they do a mean bacon croissant, the Royals. I had a lovely time. All the items here are from the Royal Collection, and many of the pictures, pieces of furniture and even the silver gilt tableware are in regular use in the Working Palaces. 

‘We have to replace whatever we take, of course,’ one of the curators told me. ‘We can’t just leave a gap.’ It gave me a pleasurable image of members of the Royal Family being in a constant state of mild confusion, putting down a glass on the coffee table and thinking, hang on, didn’t that used to be white marble, or wandering down to breakfast and finding one of the portraits has changed clothes and is now looking in the opposite direction. Then again, that’s probably not the oddest thing about being an HRH.

Johann Sebastian Müller (1715-1792) (engraver)
It’s a great little exhibition, complete with a education room done out as a Coffee House where you can eavesdrop, via tricorn hats with built-in headphones, to the gossips in St James’s Park, and thumb through copies of the Gentleman’s Magazine. It opens with a room of portraits to explain the succession from Anne to George I, and by clever use of a pair of images in the corridor into the first large exhibition space, shows the violent tensions underlying it. On one wall is an engraving of Britannia and Liberty crowning George I, and stamping down Catholicism in the process, and on the other a very elegant oil of the other Royal Family in exile, James II and a young Old Pretender - if you see what I mean.

The exhibition also gives us the chance to see some of the paper treasures of the Royal Collection and the juxtaposition of a display of plans of Royal Palaces with a collection of battle maps, including that of Culloden remind us of those tensions. 


Melchior Baumgartner (1621-86) (clockmaker (case))
In the rooms that follow, visitors get to see some of the decorative works and paintings the first Georges collected or had made for them. The Old Masters include a superb Holbein, and a there is a ridiculous rock crystal and enamel dust-magnet cabinet which plays various Handel tunes, and turns out to be a clock. 

 There are side rooms with displays of miniatures and cameos, botanical works, and cases of fancy wear - snuff boxes, porcelain etc, all of which suggest the wit, sensuality and confidence of the Georgian artists. The pair of Canelettos showing a panoramic view of the Thames from Somerset House is worth the price of admission alone, and in the final room there is a silver gilt dinner service that I think would look excellent in my flat. Particularly the golden crab salts.  Just in case Queen Elizabeth is wondering what to get me for Christmas. 

William Hogarth (1697-1764)
Harlot's Progress 
It’s important to remember the shadows behind all this delicious flim-flam. So much of the wealth that poured into Britain, funding a flowering of the arts and sciences, was the result of colonialism at its worst and the turning of slavery into a profitable industry. The rich and poor lived side by side, but in completely different worlds. I’m glad to say that while celebrating the Georgians, the exhibition doesn’t ignore those contradictions. Hogarth gets a room of his own and he was an exemplar of these paradoxes which make the period so fascinating. He painted his confident, charming portraits of his contemporaries - the example here being the portrait of David Garrick and his wife - at the same time as he was chronicling the horrors of urban poverty and the hypocrisies of the elite - the greed and ruthless use of force which now fills our galleries and museums with such civilised treasures. 

St James's Park and the Mall 
British School c.1745
The exhibition runs until 12th October 2014, but for those who can’t visit in person it’s worth pointing out the superb website. You can see high quality images of all the items in the exhibition, watch videos introducing the period, and listen to Robert Woolley playing Handel on the harpsichord made for Frederick, Prince of Wales. 

All the images above are from the site, and clicking on them will take you to the Royal Collection's information page on each. For those in town, there are various events, including lots of music, linked to the exhibition.




Sunday, 20 April 2014

Researching Girl with a White Dog: Guest Post



Marie-Louise Jensen: Today on the History Girls blog, I'm pleased to introduce Anne Booth, author of Girl With A White Dog, which I reviewed here on the 15th of this month. Anne has written a fabulous guest post for us today. Welcome, Anne!

Anne Booth: I feel very honoured to have been asked to write something for this blog, as I have been following it and enjoying it for ages, and I was very proud that my debut book ‘Girl with a White Dog’ was reviewed on it last week, and loved what was said about it. Thank you so much!

I was wondering what I could say for this post, and I thought I might write about my research and influences. I thought I would start with a quote that frequently came into my head during the research for ‘Girl with a White Dog’, and I think, motivated my story telling.

1) ‘Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.’

I realised when I started writing this post that I still wasn’t sure who wrote it, and whilst trying to find out just now, discovered that it has been attributed to a number of people, including Winston Churchill. However, (and I trust ‘The History Girls’ to put me right if this is incorrect) it seems to be by Edmund Burke (1729-1797) whose work I remember reading when I was at university 30 years ago.

http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/17142.Edmund_Burke

Looking at the other quotes from him, I realise that other things he said may well have lodged in my unconscious and have also driven my story, like:

2) ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’

This seems to be a very apt quote for anyone looking at the rise of Nazism, and is something I believe to be true in life in general, and in particular in reference to the way the disabled and the sick, immigrants and ‘the other’ are being treated in our nation today. I read about the rise of ant-semitism and the far right in Europe, the links that ‘nice’ UKIP have with far right groups in the European Parliament, and I worry.

I see now that I practically paraphrased this following quote at the end of ‘Girl with a White Dog’:

3) ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.’

I know that I can easily get overwhelmed when I read about bad things happening and think that things are hopeless, and remembering that quote, though forgetting who said it, has helped me over the years to avoid despair. So I have Ben’s grandmother on page 124 of ‘Girl with a White Dog’ telling the children

‘Please, do not despair. Do not think that kindness is worthless, or because you cannot do everything, you should do nothing.’

So here are three quotes which I probably first read 30 years ago, when I was past my childhood, by a man whose name I had forgotten, and which seem to have helped form my attitude to the past and its relevance to the present. I had never realised how influential Edmund Burke’s thoughts have been on my life and perhaps I should have acknowledged him at the back of ‘Girl with a White Dog’ ! I have to be careful though. I can’t remember what else he wrote, and I want to re-read him to see if I agree with everything else he said. I don’t want to say Edmund Burke has been a major influence on my life until I find out more about him!

Steve Biddulph, the educational psychologist, on page 4 of his excellent book ‘The Secret of Happy Children’ says that

'...hypnosis is an everyday event. Whenever we use certain patterns of speech, we reach into the unconscious minds of our children and program them, even though we have no such intention......’

He says

‘Parents, without realising it, implant messages in their child’s mind, and these messages, unless strongly contradicted, will echo on for a child’s lifetime.’

(I give you the Amazon link as you can look inside and read the first pages. It is an excellent book which I strongly recommend getting from wherever you get your books from!)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Secrets-Happy-Children-Parents/dp/0007161743/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397823049&sr=1-1&keywords=the+secret+of+happy+children

Imagine then, the power of words explicitly taught to children in Nazi Germany as they were growing up, as illustrated by a display of Nazi textbooks and toys at the Jewish Wiener Library in London. This exhibition had a major influence on my book.

http://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/Nazi-Childrens-Books


Dr. Lisa Pine’s wonderful history books ‘Education in Nazi Germany’

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Education-Nazi-Germany-Lisa-Pine/dp/1845202651

and ‘Nazi Family Policy’

http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/education-in-nazi-germany-9781845202651/



were vital for my research, and I consciously drew on them for Chapter Fourteen of ‘Girl with a White Dog’, when Ben’s Gran is telling the children about what it was like growing up in Nazi Germany. I actually saw a copy of the poodle-pug-dacshund-pinscher book mentioned by Ben’s Gran, in the Wiener Library exhibition.

So, in my unconscious were (amongst other things!) quotes from Edmund Burke, and I consciously set out to read as many history books as I could about what it was like to grow up in Nazi Germany. I read political history, social and economic history, and books based on oral history. I watched documentaries and films. I read as many children’s books - fiction and non-fiction- about the war as I could, including some reviewed on this very blog. I have an M.A. in Children’s Literature from Roehampton Institute, where I studied part-time from 1993-95; I first studied German fairytales and first learnt about Bruno Bettleheim’s book ‘The Uses of Enchantment’ on that course.

I went to Germany and to Dachau itself. I visited the concentration camp. I went to Dachau town and (with the help of my German-speaking friend ) talked to people in the Art Gallery. I prayed in a Catholic church in Dachau, and wondered about my fellow Catholics who prayed there during the war, and their feelings about the concentration camp on the outskirts of their town, and the starving prisoners they saw marched through their streets. Did they feel guilty? Powerless? Would I have done anything if I had been in their position?

There were other, even more fundamental influences that guided how I told the story and related to the History.

Things like the fact that I am myself the daughter of immigrants, and have found myself present in conversations where people are criticising immigrants in front of me, taking it for granted that I am English for generations back. And that makes me feel worried. I try to always challenge them, but it doesn’t take much imagination to think ‘what if I was a German Jew in Nazi Germany, and the government was explicitly telling my neighbours over and over again for years and years that I was the cause of their troubles? How long would neighbourliness last under such sustained propaganda? When would challenging such talk be infinitely more dangerous than risking simply creating an embarrassing pause in a conversation?’

l also found myself asking - ‘what if I wasn’t a German Jew at all? What I was an Aryan German in Nazi Germany, and if I questioned the government I could be punished? Would I have found relief in blaming my family’s problems on others, whilst knowing I was regarded as blameless and ‘hard-working?’ I must at least acknowledge that I would be tempted. I am not a rebel by nature.

And then, now, looking at our nation’s economic difficulties, I see in our headlines today the same tendency to blame the outsider. We have the same rhetoric we saw in the early years of the Nazis - respectable people against scroungers, nationals against immigrants, We are constantly being told that we are being bled dry or cheated by sections of our own people - we have headlines about people pretending to be disabled, or lying or cheating, or simply about the cost of looking after the elderly and the sick, and how our health service cannot sustain this, whilst we can still afford to pour vast amounts of money into weapons.

And so in my story I have Jessie and her Aunt Tess soaking this propaganda up, hypnotised by the stories we are being told by our press and politicians.

But because I don’t want to despair, or cause others (especially children) to despair, I want to go back to Steve Biddulph and Edmund Burke.

I want to remind us of what Steve Biddulph, the educational psychologist says:

‘Fortunately...hypnosis can be countered if the subject becomes aware of the process.(p.4)

and in the light of that I want to re-present Edmund Burke’s saying as

‘Those who learn from the past are freed to not repeat it.’

I really hope and pray that the way history is dealt with in ‘Girl with a White Dog’ will help readers - child or adult- be more aware of when they are being manipulated or hypnotised, and to be able to stop past terrible mistakes being repeated in the present and future.
















Saturday, 19 April 2014

JOHN MUIR, environmentalist, nature lover: by Theresa Breslin



Image Copyright Scarpa

John Muir, considered to be the founder of the world’s National Park movement, is one of my big heroes.
He was born in Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland, where you can visit his home and museum, and there is also a rather lovely statue of him on the main street of the town. 

 
His family left Scotland when he was eleven years old. They moved to Wisconsin, and it was in the USA that he was particularly active in his conservation work.Although he lived over a hundred years ago he recognised the potential destructive force of increasing industrialisation 
and actively campaigned to preserve the natural landscape. 

He is widely revered in the USA as the founding father of their National Parks. I visited the John Muir Park just outside San Francisco, home of some stunning redwood trees
 
Image Copyright Scarpa


Image Copyright Scarpa

An inventor, naturalist, artist, mountaineer, geologist, glaciologist and writer, John Muir spent his life exploring wild places and it is due to his efforts that there are still a lot of wild places left for us to enjoy.

2014 is the 100th anniversary of his death and to help young people develop a deeper understanding and awareness of the natural environment a graphic novel John Muir, Earth – Planet, Universe has been published by Scottish Book Trust

The novel, based on the key moments and life adventures of John Muir, is illustrated by artist William Goldsmith and written by award-winning author Julie Bertagna. 

Julie Bertagna is the perfect fit to be the author of the book. Passionate about the environment, she wrote the hugely popular trilogy of books - Exodus, Zenith, and Aurora - about a future flooded world.


When I asked her about writing the John Muir book Julie said:


There's a lot of appeal for children today in the story of a Scottish boy from Dunbar who grew up to be a world famous global explorer and adventurer -  an American hero who ended up on stamps and coins, with all sorts of places and things named after him, from mountains to millipedes.

As a youngster, John was a real wild spirit who escaped every moment he could from schoolwork and Bible studies to roam outdoors, getting into scraps and all sorts of mischief. Dunbar is where his love of nature began so we've included funny, quirky stories from his early life that proved a real hit with when we trialled the book in schools across Scotland.

Young people today are deeply interested in the future (as seen in the current craze for dystopian, futuristic books and films, including my Exodus trilogy about an environmentally-devastated world) and as the first modern environmentalist John Muir speaks to them about the kind of world they want - and don't want - to live in.

My aim was to tell John Muir's story in a lively and page-turning way, combining powerful images (by illustrator William Goldsmith) with Muir's own words that would resonate with a young audience - the head-spinning idea that they are citizens of the universe, spinning through space with all the other planets and stars, and as the up-and-coming new caretakers of the Earth, its future soon will be in their hands.


 Another major event of the anniversary year will be the opening of the John Muir Way on the 21st of April. Stretching from his birthplace in Dunbar, through Scotland’s first National Park at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, to the River Clyde and Helensburgh, it carves a path through the splendid scenery of central Scotland.  

There’s a whole John Muir Festival going on just now with walks conducted by the Ramblers Association plus a street ceilidh and firework festival finale at Loch Lomond on the evening of 26th April.

See you there!  


NOTE: There will also be an accessible pdf version of John Muir, Earth – Planet, Universe available to download from www.scottishbooktrust.com/johnmuir
as well as teaching support notes and pupil activities which accompany the book.

Images and Photographs Copyright:  © SCARPA
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Friday, 18 April 2014

The Road Goes Ever On... Celia Rees

So begins The Walking Song, composed by Bilbo Baggins and sung in J.R.R. Tolkien's Hobbit and sometimes in the Lord of the Rings. They do a lot of walking in both, so a walking song must have come in handy. Both books are quests and quests often involve a lot of journeying, often on foot, sometimes on horseback. Quests never seem slow moving, although the characters might move slowly. That is because being on the move allows things to happen. Journeying allows the characters to have new experiences; to learn more about the world and about themselves. 

Quests and journeying are most often associated with fantasy but they are the mainstay of all kinds of fiction. If you want things to happen, send your main character on a journey, voluntarily, or not. If they don't want to go, have them kidnapped.

I often take my characters on journeys. It gets them out of the house, out of their comfort zone, puts them on their mettle, presents them with new challenges, new places to see and new characters with whom they can fight or fall in love. In Witch Child, Mary goes to America and then off into the wilderness in Sorceress,. In Pirates! Nancy leaves Bristol for the West Indies and in the company of her friend Minerva, she sails the seven seas. In Sovay, the eponymous heroine journeys first to London and then to Paris.  In The Fool's Girl, Violetta travels from Illyria to London. I don't write about stay at home kind of girls.

Sending your heroines (or heroes) on journeys demands a certain kind of research: modes of travel (beyond shanks's pony), travel times - how long to x from y using z transport, where to stop on the way.  This, in turn, leads the writer to a certain kind of writing, in particular travel journals. It is always best to read a contemporary account of the kind of journey that you want your character to make if said account is available, particularly if it is written by an excellent writer, as these accounts often are. Daniel Defoe's  A Tour Thro' The Whole Island of Great Britain, Divided into Circuits or Journies , for example, or Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary, Being the Diary of Celia Fiennes

Memorial to Celia Fiennes
Even if the intrepid traveler is not an exact contemporary of your fictional character, I always reason that, until quite recently, travel didn't change markedly for quite long periods of time. Fifty years here or there doesn't make a whole lot of difference. The detail and insights such writers provide are far more important than a slavish adherence to dates.




Research has introduced me to a whole new area of literature and one I have come to thoroughly enjoy, especially since I don't have to stir from chair or study to have the most fantastic adventures, visit places, landscapes, cityscapes, even countries that are not there any more. Books like Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, her account of her travels in Yogoslavia before the Second World War, or Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water where he describes his journey on foot from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, allow us to time travel, which is what the writer of historical fiction wants to do most of all.


 Books like these, or Robert McFarlane's The Old Ways make me want to pack an old knapsack like Bilbo Baggins and be on my way, off to find my own adventures, but if that's not possible,  and it rarely is, then reading about someone else doing it is the next best thing. The other best thing is writing about it: taking the journey in your own head, with someone like Patrick Leigh Fermor or Celia Fiennes guiding your every step.

Does anyone else have favourite travelling companions of a literary kind?



Celia Rees

www.celiarees.com



Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Children and Puppet Thing - by Penny Dolan

Why children, I wonder?   

On Monday, I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see the Shakespeare Puppet show mentioned by Louisa Young in her History Girls “Fear of Puppetry Overcome” post a few weeks back.

I took two children - 7 & 10 - and the noon-time show was the first public performance. 

As well as displaying and demonstrating different kinds of puppets, the script was cleverly woven through with lines from Shakespeare’s great plays to introduce his phrasing and poetry, and very enjoyable it all was.

 
However, the quantity of very small children in the audience set me thinking. Why, here in England, are puppets almost always seen as something for young audiences? Even those magnificent Warhorse puppets – like the horse on display in the V&A Theatre Gallery – originated in a story written for children.

I started wondering whether this attitude had any historical link. Might our national response to puppets go back to the Reformation, and the destruction and defacing of so much religious statuary and images? Did that great ferment turn all forms of images into suspicious objects, especially any used in processions or plays and likely to deceive souls by seeming "alive"? 


Did whatever puppets existed back then – in whatever was street theatre or as part of mystery plays -  become deceits of the devil and casualties of the Puritan view? Or were puppets far too close to  the venerated icons and miraculous statues of enemy Papist practices, and all those other suspicious customs of “foreigners”?  

(European puppet companies still have a tradition of producing shows for adults as well as for children, and many other world traditions are intended for all ages.)


Would the fear of witchcraft or, worse, accusation of witchcraft, make people shun puppets in case such objects were seen as evidence of their crimes?  Were children's "poppets" and "babies", used to encourage mothering skills, seen as innocent when puppets themselves were not?

And if so, does that mean that Henry VIII, Good Queen Bess and Old Noll killed the English love of puppets? Note: I'm just wondering here. I don’t know, not yet. Do you?

However puppets are still around, hanging on at the edge of our culture.  We still have Punch and Judy shows, even though the rascal originated in Italy. Occasionally, the art of puppetry resurfaces in the theatre, or on our televisions whenever Spitting Image's satirical caricatures become newsworthy.


We still have human puppets like the “’Osses” of the mumming tradition, and speaking dolls like the ventriloquist’s dummy. Sometimes whole communities get involved with puppets: the town of Skipton has a bi-annual puppet festival and procession, next due in 2015, and not so long ago a huge Elephant puppet paraded through London to great audiences and acclaim.  


Even so, I bet any publicity about a puppet show will be – unless there are very explicit warnings - read and seen as “for children” - and very little children at that.


By the by, I once read that the violent destruction of so much religious art during the Reformation created such intense trauma that English visual tradition ceased. The main means of expression shifted towards words, which brings me very back nicely to the glory of Shakespeare’s language and that V&A puppet show.





Penny Dolan
www.pennydolan.com

ps. I'm rather fond of puppets and created an old Punch and Judy man as an important character in my children's novel. A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E. (Bloomsbury)


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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Right Bobby Dazzler and Four Marys Catherine Johnson



This post came about because I was reading a memoir by Mikey Cuddihy about her childhood, orphaned at 9 and uprooted from her New York family and sent away to the alternative school in Suffolk, Summerhill, in the 1960s. It's called A Conversation About Happiness and it's a lovely read by the way. Anyway, in the book Mikey recounts the parcels from other students' parents containing girls' comics - Bunty and Judy - and how they were passed round and devoured even though much of what happened in them, boarding school punishments  and the like were foreign to Summerhill students.

This got me thinking. What strange beasts those comics were. I think most of them staggered on into the 1980s desperately trying and failing to re-invent themselves. I read them in the late sixties at my friend Sheila's house. Her older sister Jean got them every week, and not having English parents myself they offered a window onto - for me at least - an equally foreign world.

What I remember most of all is the thick strand of masochism - Wee Slavey always toiling away for the upper classes and being treated horribly. Ballerinas beaten by evil dancing instructors (of both sexes by the way),  and also The Four Marys who never suffered quite so horribly but who had incredibly weird and strange haridos presumably so readers could identify one from the other. When you compare them to the American Comics that I can remember from the period, Archie, Richie Rich, there was none of that out and out suffering, that know your place Englishness going on at all.



There were ponies and dancing and orphanhood and ghosts - quite a bit of seeing things and psychicness  (although having since done a bit of research rather than just remembering, this was Misty, the horror themed comic)- the odd tomboy - modelling, air hostesses, and plenty of suffering.

It was in these pages I learnt what a Bobby Dazzler was - she was Roberta on the cover of Judy. And how it was to be a boarding school girl even though I lived in a terrace house in North London. But most of all I learnt that to be a girl which always seemed involved a veil of tears and knowing one's place and of course, naturally, you had to be white. Luckily since I wasn't I knew that the world I read about was one that didn't apply to me.


Catherine Johnson's latest book is Sawbones published by Walker books.



Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Book Review: Girl with a White Dog



By Anne Booth

(Post by Marie-Louise Jensen)



Jessie is excited when her gran gets a white Alsatian puppy, but with Snowy's arrival a mystery starts to unfold. As Jessie learns about Nazi Germany at school, past and present begin to slot together and she uncovers something long-buried, troubling and somehow linked to another girl and another white dog…
Family troubles, dementia, a longed-for pet and a mysterious past: I wasn't far into this book before I began to realise there were many layers in the narrative and that the way the tale was unfolding was unusual but exciting. The writing is gentle, warm and caring.

When Jessie's grandmother begins to have episodes of forgetfulness and fear and to say things that make no sense to her family, Jessie becomes afraid for her. Strangely, the things she is saying begin to link uncomfortably with Jessie's aunt, who blames immigrants for all the troubles in the area, with the brick that is thrown through Mr Gupta's village-shop window and with an attack on the young man with Down's syndrome. Her grandmother's condition also seems to coincide with her unexpected acquisition of a white puppy for whose safety she is irrationally afraid.
Jessie grows curious about her grandmother's past, which no one in her family knows anything about. This becomes especially important when Ben's grandmother visits the school to talk about Nazi Germany as part of a history project. Eventually she decides to look through her box of photos and letters which Snowy has found and chewed.
All the threads in the story are linked and connect past and present. The tale is a lesson in remembering the past and making sure it doesn't repeat itself horribly in the present. My favourite line, without doubt, and the main message I myself will take from the book is in the very last section: "a story [...] is being told that we believe in [ ... ] But we have not checked who is telling it."
Do we always think about who is telling us something and what their agenda might be? If we don't, we should. Otherwise we are easily manipulated.
Jessie tells us this is a fairy tale, and like all fairy tales it begins by being sad. And you have to make up your own mind about whether the ending is happy or sad. It may be different things to different readers.

It’s difficult to pinpoint an appropriate reading age for this book. It seems to be set in secondary rather than primary school, as the subjects are divided and taught by different teachers. The voice is young and the writing highly accessible. The subject is upsetting in places but always gently told and never graphic. My feeling reading it was that a child would understand the story on different levels depending on their age and would draw an age-appropriate message from it. There is plenty here for an adult reader too, especially those readers who aren't all that familiar with the Third Reich - and anyone who enjoys a sensitively-told tale, beautifully written.

With thanks to Catnip Books for a review copy.