This week I've chosen two very different books from the longlist.
Darcy Burdock by Laura Dockrill.
Ten-year-old Darcy Burdock is one of life's noticers. Curious, smart-as-a-whip, funny and fiercely loyal, she sees the extraordinary in the everyday and the wonder in the world around her. In this first book, we are introduced to her family: Mum, who Darcy loves as much as her favourite fried egg and chips, Dad, who is kind and fair if a bit hopeless, and little siblings Hector and Poppy, who Darcy likes dressing up in ridiculous outfits and having dance-offs with, respectively. Plus there's her non-bleating pet lamb, Lamb-Beth and best friend, Will, to have adventures with. Darcy learns that turning into an angrosaurus-rex and causing chaos just gets her in trouble, trying to run away from home with a reluctant lamb in tow leads to sore kneebows, it's best not to throw a massive strop just before your surprise birthday party, Hallowe'en is all about spider costumes and having a pumpkin with a wonky eye, and if she's ever in a situation at home or at school where she's not sure what to do, she should write a story around it and the truth will be illuminated by her imagination.
Darcy Burdock is one of those books where I’ve had to defer to the opinion of my nieces. I read it last year and didn’t really connect with Darcy. The kids, however, disagree. Charlotte (aged 11 when she read the book) wrote a very positive review, which can be found here, and Eloise (aged 8) gave the book 4/5 stars at our most recent Book Club. It is undoubtedly great fun, and the stories within the story have the potential to inspire young writers up pick up their pens.
My Friend the Enemy by Dan Smith
Summer, 1941. For Peter, the war is a long way away, being fought by a faceless enemy, marching across places he's never seen. Until the night it comes to him. A German plane is shot down over the woods that his Dad looked after, before he went off to fight. Peter rushes to the crash site to find something exciting to keep. But what he finds instead is someone: a young and injured German airman. The enemy. Here. And in trouble. Suddenly, helping him seems like the right thing to do.
I would have missed out on this one if it hadn’t been for the Branford-Boase prize, which would have been a shame. I think it’s a good story well told, capturing the conflicting emotions war can inspire. The book skilfully handles issues of morality and propaganda, leaving room for the reader to think about them too.
I liked Peter as a character and his friendship with Kim. Their experiences bond them together very quickly, and they do a lot of growing up in that time. I did get a bit emotional towards the end of the story; it’s a bit nerve-wracking. The last few pages change tone to a more grown-up perspective, which round out the events Peter describes. The memo-style timeline at the beginning is a clever idea, giving the historical background in brief and clear form.
My Friend the Enemy straddles the 9-12 and Teen age groups, and I think it would suit 10+ readers looking for an exciting and thought-provoking wartime adventure.