In recent years Tom Palmer has written historical fiction for children that has focussed on events that took place during the two world wars. Both Armistice Runner and D-Day Dog are books that are enjoyed by young readers and also enable them to understand and empathise with people and situations outside their own experience. In After the War he takes the most challenging subject matter and with thoughtful care and respect makes it accessible to children. This is an incredibly powerful book telling an unforgettable and important story.
After the War was inspired by the three hundred child concentration camp survivors who came to the Lake District in the summer of 1945 for ‘recuperation’. The story is told through the eyes of a Polish boy named Yossi, who, with his two friends Leo and Mordecai, has survived the horrors of the camps to find himself in the beautiful surroundings of Lake Windermere where it is hoped they can begin to recover. They are shown kindness and care by those looking after them on the Calgarth estate and the local people. At first the children struggle with both their surroundings and the contrast with their recent traumas. Gradually Yossi’s initial fears subside and he and his friends learn to trust the adults they now live with and Yossi grows healthier and stronger. Yet Yossi is haunted by terrible nightmares prompted by memories of his wartime experiences and troubled by constant thoughts of his missing father. Each day he waits anxiously for news and wonders what the future holds for him, Leo and Mordecai. The boys desperately need to feel that they belong and that they have a future that will be free from fear.
This book is immensely moving; I had to stop reading at several points and collect my thoughts. The story leaves you needing to sit quietly and think about its impact. Tom Palmer has created in Yossi a boy who readers will relate to and understand. He has managed to convey the important fact that these boys, these children, are no different in essence to the young people reading the story seventy five years later. There are points in the story where small touches capture what matters to children and will bring home to today’s readers that these boys have so much in common with them. Events such as when Yossi is forced to hand over his beloved bicycle to the German authorities, the misunderstanding about unfamiliar food in England and the way smells evoke memories from long ago all contribute to making this feel relatable to today’s children. Tom Palmer uses Yossi’s memories to tell the story of the appalling events that he and others witnessed and experienced and the contrast between his earlier life and his current situation is stark.
To be able to write about this subject in a manner that does not diminish the horror but also conveys the story in an appropriate way for the intended audience takes skill and understanding. Tom Palmer has honoured the memory of these children and those who died whilst still creating a story that will engage young readers. As with all Barrington Stoke titles After the War is presented in an accessible format, with a typeface suitable for dyslexic readers making it appealing to a wide readership. The more simplified use of language does in some ways I think add to the impact.
It is important to stress that this is a book full of hope and ultimately of love. The value of close friendship that can be, at times, almost akin to a family relationship is highlighted and we are reminded of the importance of loyalty, resilience and trust. Despite the events of the past which these courageous boys have endured the reader turns the final page with an optimism for their future and the knowledge that there is goodness to be found if we look for it. This is a beautiful book. Beautiful, powerful and important. Anyone who reads it will not forget it.
Thank you Tom Palmer and Barrington Stoke.
After the War is published on 6th August and can be preordered/purchased on the Barrington Stoke website.
You can watch a trailer for the book below: