There are two reasons that I was keen to read Young Ravens, by Celia Boyd, which tells the story of a young girl and her little brother during the Second World War, for two main reasons.
Firstly, I’m interested in social history from that era, not least because my parents are of that generation.
Secondly I’ve recently read and enjoyed the first two in a series of three books set in the same era, following a young boy’s adventures, by Rosalind Minett, and I thought it would be interesting to see how they compared. Rosalind Minett’s books are aimed at an adult audience, whereas Celia Boyd’s Young Ravens is a children’s book, though like all good children’s books may be enjoyed by adults too.
War is Not the Only Threat
An obvious parallel between Boyd’s and Minett’s books is that for the central character, the war is not the only or even the main threat to their well-being. In Minett’s, a manipulative, bullying cousin makes her young hero’s life a misery, whereas in Boyd’s, Sheila’s life is more disrupted by her parents’ divorce than by the war. Being sent by her solder father (who has custody of the children) to live with her grandparents in Sheffield, Sheila must adapt fast and learn to accept and thrive in her new circumstances. The storyline of the war takes second place to her personal development.
Any modern young reader will be astonished and impressed with how much responsibility Sheila has to take for her young brother, and will enjoy seeing her adapt and grow into her new life, getting to know her grandparents properly for the first time. It’s also fascinating to learn the details of daily life during that era e.g. having to use the same six inches of bath water that her grubby toddler brother has used first!
Reminiscent of Noel Streatfeild
I suspect the story is semi-autobiographical, as sometimes it contains more detail than was necessary to the story, in particular towards the end, when Sheila gains new confidence taking part in a Shakespeare play. It reminded me of a favourite thinly-veiled autobiography from a slightly earlier era, A Vicarage Family, by the wonderful Noel Streatfeild, being written with the same warmth and compassion, and totally creating the sense of place and time.
A good read for any children studying World War II and wanting to know what life was really like for children on the Home Front.
Celia Boyd also writes historical fiction for adults. Find out more about her work at www.celiaboyd.co.uk.