For some reason, when I was growing up, I read a lot of books by authors from the UK. There was something both exotic and familiar about the characters, setting and style that appealed, and continues to appeal to me. Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett has a lovely, old-fashioned feel that took me back to those experiences.
It is 1940, and London is under imminent threat of attack. For their own safety, children are being evacuated from the city and sent into the countryside to live with strangers. Fortunately, Jeremy and Cecily Lockwood are able to go north to their Uncle Peregrine’s estate. Jeremy, a prickly 14 year old, wants to stay in London to do his part, but 12 year old Cecily is happy at Heron Hall, especially as the family takes in an evacuee, May Bright. When the two girls go exploring in the ruins of an old castle, they meet two boys who are not what they seem.
But it isn't the story of Cecily, May and the two boys that makes this book work for me. It’s the story of Cecily, Jeremy, and May and how they each cope with the changes that World War II has forced upon them. It’s the children’s growing understanding of what war means, how power can be used or abused, and how even the powerless have choices.
Children of the King has vivid, memorable characters and is beautifully written. There’s no dumbing down in this book, which to my mind, is the mark of excellent children’s literature. If you want to read about true experiences of children during World War II, check out Children of the Blitz. For a different cultural perspective on the costs of war, try Weedflower, about a Japanese girl interned in a camp here in the U.S.