Friday 19 May 2017

ReadItDaddy's Second Book of the Week - Week Ending 19th May 2017 - "A Song for Will And The Lost Gardeners of Heligan" by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey (Strauss House Productions)

Our Second Picture Book of the Week once again draws on the fascinating and tragic history surrounding the First World War from two talented folk who excel at producing the most heart-wrenching and brilliant books. "A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan" by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey...
I already knew to approach this book armed with a box of tissues. Trusting my previous experiences with Hilary and Martin's books, and also hearing so many fantastic thoughts from other book folk about this I half knew what to expect - and as we'd spent a fascinating time at the Lost Gardens of Heligan once, and read some of the real-life history around the gardens and the turn of the 20th Century I think we were pretty well prepared.

But I still cried. Poor Charlotte came in from brushing her teeth to find me quietly wrapped up in this book so we sat down and enjoyed it together.

"A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan" explores the history of the gardeners who were sent off to fight in the First World War. Told through letters back home to a young boy named Alfie, an errand boy who also worked in the gardens but was too young to enlist, we hear about two young men, William Guy and Fred Paynter - one a gardener and the other a talented stonemason who both worked on the estate and in the gardens themselves.

At first, the letters tell of excitement and adventure, but very quickly take a darker turn. When Will comes home on leave, it's obvious that war has taken its toll on this once bright and vibrant young man, and though his letters try to remain upbeat, soon Alfie realises that war is far from as exciting and heroic as he'd imagined.

Subtly the stories unfold offering facts about the war itself, and of course how folk back home coped during the leaner years when gardens such as Heligan would be turned over to grow food for the war effort.

The letters dovetail with the experiences of folk left behind who missed loved ones, and alas the inevitable tales of tragic losses as young soldiers fell on the battlefields across the channel.

Will's tale is the most poignant and touching, and the one that really 'got me'. Like Hilary and Martin's previous books on the subject of the First World War, "A Song for Will" once again gives children a chance to understand what their ancestors sacrificed in order to ensure the security and safety of our country, and why it's more important than ever that these acts of bravery and selflessness are never forgotten, particularly by Charlotte's generation who now learn about the First World War in school but perhaps not so much the direct impact of the war on individuals, families and communities.

This is sublime storytelling in a format that lends a hugely immersive and personalised view of the conflict and its impact. It comes across in waves from the way the book has been put together that both Hilary and Martin are extremely dedicated to and passionate about the subject of remembrance and in particular the personalised accounts of what was a horrendous period in history for men and women on both sides of the conflict.

We cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Charlotte's favourite bit: Once again, learning about the animals who were also 'drafted' into the war effort as well as the real-world characters in this story who gave up their lives.

Daddy's favourite bit: Touching, heart-wrenching, immersive and utterly beautifully created, If anything this is one of Hilary and Martin's best books on the subject to date and one we urge you to pick up as soon as you can.

(Kindly supplied for review)

"A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan" by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey is out now, published by Strauss House Productions.