This is one of those books that I knew I would love before I’d even got a copy. It’s historical fiction, it’s set during World War II, and it’s by Emma Carroll, whose writing style I adore. I deliberately waited until I knew I would be able to enjoy it without interruption. That day came when I was at my parents on the North Somerset coast. Whether I was on the beach or in the back garden, my view from the book took in the lighthouse. So, with the perfect backdrop and salty air in my lungs, it was time to settle down to a jolly good read.
Olive Bradshaw is enjoying a night out at the cinema with her younger brother, Cliff, and older sister Sukie, which is brought to an abrupt end by a bombing raid that leaves Olive in hospital and Sukie missing. Their mother decides it’s time they were evacuated and Olive and Cliff are sent to stay with Queenie in Budmouth Point on the Devon Coast. It’s only while they are settling in that Olive discovers the coded message hidden in the coat Sukie was wearing the night she disappeared.
However, the arrival of another evacuee, Esther, means Olive and Cliff are rehoused with Ephraim in the Lighthouse. Feeling unwanted and homesick, Olive tries to crack the code and solve the mystery of her sister’s disappearance.
There is so much I could say about Letters From The Lighthouse, but none of it would truly convey just what a wonderful book this is. Emma Carroll places the reader firmly in World War II England through Olive’s narrative, clearly showing the mistrust of strangers felt within communities, and how quickly tension can turn to anger, and violence. But it is Esther’s story that moved me most of all. An evacuee from the Kindertransport, her unfriendly, difficult demeanour hides the horrors and loss she has endured to reach safety, only to be mistrusted by the people in the village offering her refuge.
Beautifully written and deeply moving, this is a gripping mystery with captivating characters that linger in your heart long after the last page, settings that are brought vividly to life, and an emotionally intelligent subtext that cries out for exploration.
Letters From The Lighthouse is one of the stand out books of the year in my opinion, and deserves a place in every School Library. Whether studying World War II or not, I would urge teachers to read this with UKS2 classes and beyond. The links to modern day refugees, and the compassion, understanding and empathy they deserve are messages every child should read, explore and discuss.