Childhood is a mixture of joy and trauma, and throughout the bittersweet rollercoaster it is our friends that can provide the stability that allows us to keep getting up and fighting.
So it is with James who, having lost his mother at a young age, now watches his father ship off to join the front in the Great War, and is himself whipped from a relatively privileged life to overcrowded tenement living with his cousins in Dundee.
But the God of all Small Boys, the one who lets little boys bounce when they fall out of trees, and find the perfect conker, is looking after James, and after a rocky start with a distrustful cousin, he finds himself the key to facing this avalanche of challenges; a family of friends who will last a lifetime.
Through thick and thin and a love of dens, the boys embark on a summer which will force them to grow up in ways they hadn’t bargained for.
Sprinkled with nostalgia and laughter, tragedy and sorrow, this latest book from Cranachan, is a story that makes childhood tangible again. The characters are, for the most part, a group of 11 year old boys for whom local problems, such as the school bullies, are much more real than the war raging in a far off country, but who are also waiting with bated breath for the international troubles to brush against their lives.
Some younger readers may need to talk through what happens in the book, both the (to this generation) alien freedoms and the emotional fallout from a number of events but it provides the perfect access point on issues such as war; bullying; family loss and safety in play.
Highly recommended for 7 to 11 year olds, and any age which realises that sometimes the best stories are the ones contained in children’s books.
Come back later for an interview with the author, Joseph Lamb.