From her very first book for children, Frost Hollow Hall, I have loved Emma Carroll’s stories. They are the sort of books that the ten-year old me would have adored and they have a magic about them which makes me look forward to reading her latest books with a childlike excitement.
I was a bit slow off the mark in reading Letters from the Lighthouse so there was a lot of discussion online already however I had heard only positive things about it. When I finally managed to read it during my holiday I was most definitely not disappointed. This is fabulous historical storytelling, evoking a sense of time and place in a way that makes the reader feel part of the world Emma Carroll has created.
It is February 1941 and a bomb blast takes place in London. Afterwards Olive can remember little about the night her elder sister went missing. Olive’s mother decides that the city is no longer safe for her children so Olive and her younger brother, Cliff, are evacuated to coastal Devon. Once there they eventually find themselves staying with the mysterious lighthouse keeper.
At first Olive struggles with life in the country and sadly makes an enemy of the challenging Esther. In addition to coping with the changes to her circumstances Olive is determined to solve the mystery and secrets linked to the disappearance of her sister, Sukie. She soon becomes drawn into a dramatic and exciting adventure which keeps the reader guessing. Once again the author has created believable characters that a reader can engage with. Olive is a likeable heroine who copes remarkably well with her situation showing a maturity and kindness that readers can learn much from. I found Queenie intriguing too and liked her rather spiky attitude. It is Esther, though, whose story has the most impact. I’m reluctant to give away too much of the plot but one of the major strengths of this book is the way in which through Esther readers can empathise with people today who are suffering prejudice in similar ways to Esther and her family. Emma writes about weighty issues including grief and loss with a warmth and kindness that is appropriate for her intended audience.
This is children’s historical fiction at its best, a gripping adventure with believable characters and events that have a resonance today. A wonderful book and highly recommended.
Although first and foremost a brilliant story this would work extremely well in schools prompting discussion and also be extremely helpful for learning about World War 2. An ideal class read. Letters from the Lighthouse can be bought at all good bookshops online or borrowed from your local library.
Interview with Emma Carroll
Mat Tobin, Senior Lecturer in English and Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes University interviewed Emma about Letters from the Lighthouse and this provides a fascinating insight into both the research behind the book and the writing process involved. You can read it here This interview, I think, is interesting to both adults and young readers.
Photo of Emma from her official website
Scheme of Work
The brilliant and ever helpful primary school teacher Ashley Booth (@MrBoothY6 on Twitter) has produced a scheme of work linked to the book which is freely available on the TES website or can be accessed via Ashley’s blog
The lighthouse in the story was inspired by the one at Start Point in Devon and if young readers want to find out more about this they can find more information on the official website.
There are many sources of information about evacuees suitable for KS2 students but two of the most comprehensive websites are Primary Homework Help and the Imperial War Museum
The CBBC Newsround website contains information about the Kindertransport programme presented in a manner appropriate for Junior School children.
Finally if reading Letters from the Lighthouse has whetted your appetite for more of Emma’s books you can read my reviews of her previous titles on the Bookbag site.
Another excellent book dealing with World War 2 and themes of discrimination, immigration and tolerance is Girl With a White Dog by Anne Booth
For a novel about evacuees you may also like to try Catching Falling Stars by Karen McCombie
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