Category: Children's Fiction
Synopsis: Tom Oakley, a Widower and man who keeps himself to himself, whilst still helping where he can in the village becomes the guardian of a little boy named William when the Second World War and Evacuation become a grim reality in the lives of many in the village. William's shy and nervous demeanour hides a talent for Art and a quite harrowing home life back in London. This is the story of how Tom and William learn to trust and open themselves up again after personal tragedies,all played out against the backdrop of war.
I am a huge proponent of adults reading what are ostensively children's books, this is a perfect case in point. I defy anyone not to enjoy this simple tale of two (arguably three, but I will not spoil it) lost souls finding each other. The most beautiful of stories is depicted here. It is not twee or cloying just sweetly sentimental, oddly emotionally arresting and desperately memorable.
This is cleverly characterised, so many Trope's could have been utilised here, but they are not. Tom is not cantankerous or angry at life, he is resigned to his daily life, he did not expect to be shepherding a small boy over the hurdles of growing up so he never preparedfor it, but he is kind hearted and open to change once he realises it's benefit to William. The boy William is not a rebellious child or a wallflower, he is the rather the confused result of a horrendous upbringing with exceptionally mixed messages bombarded at him. I would be a bit timid if I had been similarly moulded in my formative years!
The style is easy, the tone in the main is light and this helps immensely when darker themes are introduced, anti -semitism, Religious zealotry and mental illness care all introduced seamlessly and it is in this more faceted story that I think this child's book stands up to Adult scrutiny. Children will see the darker characters and themes and root for Tom and William, sharing in William's highs and lows with relish, but adults can see the grey areas in those characters and scenarios and gain another layer of satisfaction in the light and shade of this one of my favourite stories.
Why is this in my Top Twenty?
Quite simply it is a book you can read again and again and still get that warm feeling that a lovely tale always imbues. A kids book I read first as an adult and one I will continue to champion. Buy it for everyone you know.