Set in the Lake District in 1940 Cuckoo Summer is a beautiful novel of friendship, secrets, loyalty and childhood innocence, bringing to life both the people and the landscape of fells and tarns of the author’s beloved Lakeland.
Cuckoo Summer tells the story of local boy Tommy whose family have been farmers on the fells for generations. Tommy’s Dad is missing while on active service in the war and Tommy lives on the family farm with his Aunties. Into this world his new friend Sally, an evacuee who lives on the neighbouring farm, appears like a breath of fresh air, full of jokes, chat and bravado, she is the type of child that others follow. So when Sally tells Tommy about the wounded Nazi airman in the woods Tommy is persuaded not to report it but to help Sally keep him hidden. This results in a chain of events that expose the children to danger and uncover secrets about Sally’s past.
This is a lovely story full of brilliant, believable characters, sparky dialogue between the two children and running through the whole book a love of the landscape in which the children live. The descriptions of the setting, the tarns and the wildflowers all bring the world to life as the reader is drawn into the adventure. Inspired by the stories the author heard about his mother’s childhood on a Lakeland farm and wartime events in the area Cuckoo Summer has an authenticity and a sense of time and place that ensures this historical fiction is credible. Jonathon Tulloch has recreated rural life of the time and also highlighted the local dialects of both Tommy’s family and Sally’s native Tyneside. Sally’s language took me a little while to get used to but would give teachers who like ‘doing the voices’ during a class read aloud a chance to shine! I also enjoyed learning how to count sheep in the traditional way, Yan, Tan, Tethera…
There is an innocence to the children’s attitude to the wounded airman and the accompanying press release for the book mentions the suitability for fans of Whistle Down the Wind and I can well understand why. Sally, despite her carefree attitude to life and her situation, displays a kindness to the injured enemy that is touching. The cast of characters include Tom’s Auntie Annie whose stoical but caring attitude is in sharp contrast to the bitter, anger displayed by Mr Scarcross. He is a villain in the mould of some of the worst in children’s literature and quite terrifying at times. I grew fond of some of the characters and think that Silent Simon who works on the Scarcross farm deserves a story of his own.
This is a Second World War story for children with a subtly different tone. First and foremost Cuckoo Summer is about the friendship between the two children and the importance of family and community to them both in very different ways. I enjoyed reading this and would recommend it to readers of about 9+.
I should like to thank Jonathon Tulloch and Andersen Press for my review copy. Cuckoo Summer is published on 7th July and is available to purchase at your local independent bookshop or online at bookshop.org.