27/03/2006

When the Siren Wailed (by Noel Streatfeild)

I love Noel Streatfeild's books. They're mostly about children, and intended for children - but are so well-written that I continue to enjoy them, and re-read periodically.

It's a long time since I'd read 'When the Siren Wailed'. It's the story of a family of London children during World War II. As the story opens we learn that they're very poor, often hungry, but very much loved. As rumours of war circulate, they acquire gas masks, learn about blackouts, and are evacuated to a village in the east of the country. They're luckier than most - their hosts are strict, but caring, and there's plenty of food - but there are sufficient comments about unhappy evacuees to paint what's probably an accurate picture of what life was like for many.

There are scenes in London too, no doubt from the author's experience during these years, which clearly portray the mixture of fear and excitement that accompanied air raids. The horrors of war come through quite clearly, in unsentimental and non-gory language, and the characters are easy to empathise with.

The ending was a bit abrupt, tidying up a lot of loose ends at the same time, but on the whole I thought it an excellent book. Suitable for children of about 7 or 8 upwards, I think this should be recommended reading for anyone studying World War II (particularly at primary school). One or two very moving moments and a vivid picture of life 60 years ago. Excellent.

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