Sunday 3 March 2024

World Book Day special : The history of children's books by The Time Tunnellers

If you go into a bookshop or library today there will be a Children’s Section – of course there will. And you will be spoilt for choice. There have never been so many books written for young people. But it hasn’t always been like this. Far from it – the history of children’s books is not a long one, certainly compared to adult literature.

Children are spoiled for choice in many independent bookshops
(photograph Susan Brownrigg)

We have to fast-forward to the 19th century to see the first real age of books for young people. There had been occasional pioneers in previous centuries, but in the 17th century the few books aimed at children were mostly about being ‘good’ – and the horrors that would befall you if you weren’t.

In the Victorian era, for many children in Britain, the poor, the ones in ever-growing factories or getting shoved up chimneys, there would have been next to no access to books. But for the middle class, a group growing by the day, this was the first golden age of children’s literature. And certainly it’s remarkable how many books published in the 19th century are still adored.

A selection of favourite children's classics
Photo Robin Scott-Eliot

I’m going to stay largely British, with a nod to America, because there just isn’t space to squeeze everything in from around the globe.

In 1846 Edward Lear published A Book of Nonsense. It did what it said on the tin and was a huge hit. Lear wrote Limericks and nonsense poetry, the Owl and the Pussycat his most famous. He played with words, made up words – the owl and the pussycat took a runcible spoon with them – he showed children (and adults) that reading and writing can be fun.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson did something similar in novel form 20 years later in one of the most famous children’s books ever written.


Dodgson took the pen name Lewis Carroll and wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865. Dodgson’s story challenged everything… what is normal, how adults behave, how adults expect children to behave – and it entertained.

Throughout this era technology was constantly improving, mass producing books was becoming easier, therefore books could be cheaper. Children’s publishers became pioneers of book covers as we know them today, using illustrations, pictures and designs.

There still remained a consensus in Victorian Britain that children should be protected from the real world with all its horrors and cruelties. Then along came Robert Louis Stevenson and Treasure Island – an adventure story that does not shield young readers from anything, nor its hero Jim. It throws us into a scary world but also one of enormous excitement. Stevenson was one of the first writers not to talk down to children; he wrote for them as equals.

Treasure Island takes its place in a late 19th century, early 20th century bookshelf that could be found in homes today. Run a finger along our bookshelf… Treasure Island, Black Beauty, Peter Pan, the Jungle Book, the Wizard of Oz, Tom Brown’s Schooldays (the first great boarding school story), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Little Women, Tom Sawyer, Anne of Green Gables, Beatrix Potter’s stories…

Some have lasted better than others, but many still have a golden glow or have had a significant influence on the stories that followed in the years to come. 

Books from the 20s and 30s are still loved by readers today
Photo Susan Brownrigg

The 1920s and 1930s was a thin time for children's books, but there are titles which will be familiar to readers today. 

A.A Milne's Winnie the Pooh books, Doctor Doolittle, Mary Poppins, The Hobbit and others continue to be chosen by children, and gifted by parents and grandparents wishing to pass on their favourites to a new generation. While film and animation adaptations as well as merchandising (who can resist a cuddly Pooh bear) continue to keep these stories alive.

Book jackets became more vibrant and colourful to entice shoppers and the Just William and the Chalet School books could use their covers to make it obvious they were part of a series. Some authors even began to illustrate their own covers, including Hugh Lofting (Doctor Doolittle again), Arthur Ransome while J R R Tolkien (The Hobbit) and T.S Eliot (Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats) designed their's. Artwork could also be very appealing in this period, for example E H Sheppard's beautifully illustrations for the A.A Milne books and Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows.

Some popular books started out in a different format. Rupert the Bear, first created by Mary Tourtel, began life as a comic strip in the Daily Express (where he still appears every day) while The Velveteen Rabbit (or how toys become real) by Margery Williams was first published in Harper's Bazaar in 1921. The book was illustrated by William Nicholson and is still in print today.

Spot any favourites? Photo by Matt Wainwright

In the wake of the Second World War, publishers were looking for children's books that recalled an idyllic Britain to contrast with the reality of rationing and the enormous amount of work it was taking to rebuild the nation.

This period is sometimes called a Second Golden Age of children's publishing. The industry was small enough that publishers were still selecting authors and illustrators very carefully, but the developments in printing technology and the growing availability of printing materials meant that more and more books were being released and read. This, coupled with the influence of editors from the United States, meant that children’s publishing was beginning its journey towards becoming Big Business.

The Second World War loomed large in children’s fiction, including fantasies like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (in which the children are evacuated to the country), and more realistic books like Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and, later, Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian.

British middle-grade fiction thrived in the 1960s and 70s. Roald Dahl captivated imaginations with classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where magical worlds unfolded alongside pointed life lessons. Dahl’s books represented the changes taking place in Britain in the 60s: they were still very moralistic, with clear ideas of right and wrong—but they were also anarchic and anti-authority, reacting against the strict upbringing that many of the children's authors of this period had experienced.

Across the Atlantic, Judy Blume’s classic Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret opened up the mind of a preteen girl and dealt frankly with topics such as young love and periods, while in the UK The Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend explored a teenage boy’s attitudes towards adolescence and 1980s politics. While there was no such market as ‘young adult’ yet, these books were some of the first to explicitly explore the teenage experience for a teen audience.

Fantasy experienced a resurgence in the later part of the twentieth century, as readers and publishers rediscovered Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Building on Tolkien's vision of a rich fantasy world, British authors like Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising series), Alan Garner (Elidor) and Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy) explored surprisingly adult themes, offering young readers narratives rich in fantasy, mythology, and moral complexity.

The second half of the century also saw a growth in children’s picture books, with more experimental formats and surprising stories being explored. Shirley Hughes painted vivid pictures of childhood with the Alfie books and Dogger; Dr. Suess created a madcap rhyming world in classics like The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham; Maurice Sendak’s dark and atmospheric Where the Wild Things Are resonated with the heightened emotions of children; and Raymond Briggs bridged the gap between children and adults with his modern fairytale The Snowman and the firmly adult reflections on Cold War fears in When the Wind Blows.

The latter part of the twentieth century also witnessed a growing commitment to diversity in British children's literature. Authors like Malorie Blackman addressed issues of identity, discrimination, and inclusion, resonating with readers of all backgrounds. Representation of class and race was still not comprehensive, however, and working class and Black authors struggled for legitimacy in an industry that still favoured white, middle class writers.

Between the Second World War and the dawn of the next millennium, Children’s publishing had grown from a cottage industry to a thriving business model. But everything was about to change with the arrival of a dark-haired, bespectacled boy with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead …

Readers are spoiled for choice with books written in the 1990s and onwards!
Photo Barbara Henderson

And then came along a single Mum in Edinburgh, who exploded the world of children’s publishing while jobbing as a teacher. You have guessed it: JK Rowling and her generation-defining boy wizard, Harry Potter, changed our world! 

The first book in the series, The Philosopher’s Stone (1997), was published quietly with an initial print run of only 500. No one could have possibly foreseen how huge and influential Rowling’s wizarding world would become – least of all the author who had received a considerable clutch of rejections from publishers and agents.

The groundwork had been laid in the months before: Philip Pullman’s ambitious His Dark Materials trilogy was already underway. Both his and Rowling’s series would be turned into multi-million budget film franchises, further extending the reach of their books.

No one could deny it now – a new golden age of children’s publishing had begun, and children’s books were selling in their millions. 

Those new instant classics kept coming thick and fast: Louis Sachar’s Holes (1998), Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo (1999), Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl (2001), Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (2002) and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.

While Donaldson has dominated the picture book market in the UK ever since, the crowded Middle Grade category sported four genres in the main: humour, including Horrid Henry and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jacqueline Wilson’s real-life contemporary heroines, action series such as Alex Rider and fantasy, including the massively successful How to Train Your Dragon series. 

Rowling and Pullman occupied the upper limits of the age group edging into YA territory which would have its own renaissance with dystopian series fiction like Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (2001) and American imports such as The Hunger Games (2008) and the Mazerunner (2009) and Divergent (2011) series. 

Vampires also had their moment with the Twilight (2005) Saga. Back in Middle Grade territory, Robin Stevens and her Murder Most Unladylike (2014) series and Katherine Rundell with her range of quirky adventures ushered in a bunch of new kids on the block.

But recently, there has been another trend: the celebrity author. The most ubiquitous of these is one David Walliams, sure to be stacked sky-high on a supermarket shelf near you. But all is not lost! Riding on the waves of these phenomenally successful books are hundreds of quieter authors with quirky and imaginative books in more genres one could count. 

If I may pick one particular favourite? The Executioner’s Daughter by Jane Hardstaff (2014) where history meets just the right amount of magic.
Long live children’s books!



Wednesday 28 February 2024

Taking inspiration from the history of cinema – by Susan Brownrigg

Where do you get your ideas? For me the things I want to write about are the same things I was passionate about as a child.

I loved daytrips to Blackpool with my family when I was growing up, visiting Blackpool Tower, the Illuminations and its many other attractions. So, it felt right to set my 1930s Gracie Fairshaw mystery series there.

For the third book in the series, Gracie Fairshaw and the Missing Reel (published on World Book Day, March 7th) I decided to set the story around the filming of a movie in the resort.

I knew that another Gracie, Gracie Fields – the Rochdale born superstar singer and actress had made a film in Blackpool in 1934. In fact, I had watched and studied Sing as We Go as part of my degree in journalism, film & broadcasting as well as writing my dissertation on the actress!

Gracie Fields in a special issue of Picturegoer Magazine about Sing as We Go
(author's photograph)

I loved that the film was shot on location, with key scenes recorded at the Pleasurebeach funfair, the open-air baths, sideshows and the Blackpool Tower circus.

Basil Dean directing Sing as we Go at the open-air baths, Blackpool.

In my book, the cast and crew are recording a fictional thriller called Room for a Traitor, when my heroine, young newspaper reporter, Gracie Fairshaw, learns that an important reel of film has gone missing.

To add authenticity to the film-making scenes, I visited Blackpool Central Library and looked at old copies of the Gazette newspaper on microfiche (as I had with the previous two Gracie books.)

I was able to see the cameras that were used and was intrigued by the fact that Gracie had had a body double/stuntwoman. I went on to learn that Lilian Tollis had been a stage actress herself as well as a dancer, sometimes using the name Zetta Morenta.

Body double/Stunt woman Zetta Morenta had a close resemblance
 to actress Gracie Fields (photo Jackie Settle)

I knew I wanted to include a similar character in my story – but I didn’t know much about stunt work. So, I did more research, reading a number of books on the subject.

I learned that in the early days of moviemaking, the stars often performed their own stunts.

In the silent film era, directors, script writers and performers were often women.

Half of all American films made before 1925 were written by women!

Dramatic serials like the Perils of Pauline were very popular with their cliffhangers, and gutsy heroines.

The female stars often performed their own stunts, with many hired because they were strong swimmers, good at driving motorcars, or were skilled acrobats.

Sometimes stuntwomen were hired, and then became leads themselves, but as the work became better paid, men started to take over – wearing wigs and dresses to look like the stars.

It was said that most stunt workers only lasted five years. Lots were killed or badly injured. For example, in 1929, sixteen men were killed, including three stunt pilots making the film Hell’s Angels!

(Sadly, stunt work is still very dangerous. Actor Rory Kinnear, whose father died in a stunt accident, continues to campaign for better training and awareness of the dangers involved.)

With the introduction of sound, cinema attendance grew and the film making became big business – women were pushed aside, and only certain poorer paid roles were generally deemed suitable for them.

Although Hollywood is often the place we associate with film making, Britain had its own studios, most were in London, but there was a northern company - Mancunian Films based in Manchester who also shot a movie in Blackpool - Holidays with Pay.

In 1927 the Cinematograph Films Act was introduced which insisted that a specific percentage of British produced movies that had to be shown domestically. Unfortunately while some brilliant movies were produced, this led to a lot of poorer quality ones too, dubbed 'Quota Quickies.'

The former Odeon cinema, Blackpool.
It opened in 1939 and had 3,088 seats!
(author's photograph)

Unemployment in the 1930s saw people visiting the cinema as an escape from their worries. Many new cinemas were built, some in exotic architectural styles.

By 1938 there were 4,907 cinemas in the UK and around that same time Blackpool alone had 17! 

Inspiration for two more characters in my book came from a real-life director Alfred Hitchcock and editor/screenwriter Alma Reville. They were married and often worked together on exciting thrillers including the first British made ‘talkie’ Blackmail.

I also enjoyed setting scenes in Blackpool’s stunning Winter Gardens. This Victorian era entertainment complex went through a transformation in the 1930s. New rooms were created that looked like a Spanish village, a pirate ship and a baronial hall! These new designs were created by Andrew Mazzei, who also worked as an art director on British films!

The Spanish Hall, Winter Gardens (photograph Susan Brownrigg)

The climax of Gracie Fairshaw and the Missing Reel takes place on the roof of the Regent Cinema in Blackpool – which still exists today, as well as showing popular classic movies, it also houses an antiques centre. I was lucky to be allowed into the projection room - a real treat for a movie lover like me!

Susan Brownrigg in the projection room, The Regent Cinema,
 Blackpool ( author's photograph)

Lights, camera, action!

A new movie being filmed in Blackpool is a real scoop for trainee reporter Gracie Fairshaw.

When she's invited to interview the star, Sally Sunshine, Gracie uncovers a plot as exciting as the one being filmed. Someone has stolen a vital film reel - and then a vicious attack is attempted on Sally!

In a world of body-doubles, stunts, costumes and makeup, not everything is what it seems.
Gracie must go behind the scenes and work out, which of the cast and crew can;t be trusted before the shoot comes to a thrilling climax at the town's cinema.

Gracie Fairshaw and the Missing Reel is published on Thursday 7th March. You can preorder a signed copy HERE

Susan Brownrigg is the author of the Gracie Fairshaw mystery series and Kintana and the Captain's Curse, a treasure hunt adventure featuring pirates and lemurs!
(UCLan Publishing)

Find out more at

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Exploring the Past like a History Detective by Kimberlie Hamilton

My favourite books and films have always been the ones based true stories, which is probably why I became an author of nonfiction books. One of the things I love most about writing nonfiction is doing all the research, although I rarely call it research. “Detective work” is a much more accurate description for what I actually do.
The word “research” sounds a bit dry and boring and history is anything but that. For anyone with a curious mind, like me (and you, I suspect!), history is like going on a scavenger hunt through time, searching for clues and carefully piecing them together, like a jigsaw puzzle of real-life people and events.
Some people say they rarely read books about history because they prefer stories that engage their imagination. These folks clearly have no clue whatsoever how much imagination is required to study, write and read about history! Anyone who thinks of history as a (yawn) dull and lifeless record of wars and battles, kings and queens, dates and facts, would be dead wrong.

 The stories of our past are not neat and tidy. They are not black and white, or set in stone. They are actually more like a messy patchwork quilt. A madly coloured quilt with often clashing and wonky accounts of what happened, all stitched together by whoever was in power at the time.

And who has been in power for centuries on end? Humans, that’s who. And only certain humans, for that matter.

It was the educated people who wrote about history, people who lived in rich and powerful countries, people who looked a lot like this guy:
Needless to say, much of what we’ve been taught is only a teeny tiny sliver of the historical pie.

What I never knew when I was at school is that there are many gaps in history, periods when the page is totally blank and we have absolutely no idea what happened.

Other times, there are so many conflicing accounts of what happened that it’s hard to say what is true and what is fiction. This is where those detective powers come into play.

If you’ve ever watched a detective show on the telly or read a mystery novel, you’ll know that one’s powers of imagination can just as important as reason and logic.
We have to use creative thinking skills even with historical events that are extremely well documented. Why? Because most of the time, we weren’t there.

Reading about something in a book is not nearly the same as actually experiencing it. We have to take the facts and then do our best to imagine what it must have been like.

It’s not always easy to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, especially someone who lived long ago…like a soldier dodging bullets as he runs through enemy gunfire, or a young Jewish girl, scribbling away in a diary while hiding from the Nazis.
Can you picture it in your mind, like this scene from a stage play about Anne Frank? We do this every time we read a book, whether it’s a book for pleasure or a history book at school or a nonfiction book like the ones I write.

By doing some research, you’ll find all sorts of little details that will make imagining long ago events and people much easier. I really had to put my detective skills and my imagination to work while writing my latest book, which is all about the history of the world from a cat’s perspective.

The idea for this book came when I realized that humans tell history from a very limited, human point of view, which is not necessarily what actually happened. But cats have prowled the planet for thousands of years and have become keen observers of the human race, silently watching (and judging) us with their clear, unblinking eyes.
There’s a special relationship between cats and humans that stretches back for many, many centuries. Longer than humans and dogs, believe it or not. Who better to give an account of the history of the world?

I’ve discovered that telling a story from an unexpected perspective – like a cat – often reveals stuff that I might not have paid much attention to before.

So, your Writing Challenge is to try this for yourself. Choose one item in your home or school and write a short paragraph about it from the perspective of an animal. Any object, any animal. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, so give it a bash and see what you come up with!
Kimberlie Hamilton used to live in sunny California and now lives in misty Scotland with her family and three cats. She has written all sorts of things but especially loves writing nonfiction books for young people with curious minds.

Kimberlie has a Master’s in Screenwriting from UCLA and studied Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of Rebel Cats, Rebel Dogs, Scotland’s Animal Superstars, Generation Hope, Rebel Animals at Risk and A History of the World (According to Cats!), and her books have been translated into 22 languages.

She is passionate about travel, books and animals and aspires to have her own sanctuary someday for cats that need a loving forever home.

A History of the World (According to Cats!) by Kimberlie Hamilton (author) Jocelyn Kao (illustrator) Scholastic UK | 2023

Wednesday 7 February 2024

The History of Valentine's Day

Familiar flowers fill the shop windows wherever you look at this time of year. Of course – it’s February and the run-up to St Valentine’s Day. But where do these traditions actually come from? I was interested and decided to do a little bit of time tunnelling!
There are at least three contenders for who the original Valentine may have been (you may not guess, but Valentine was a very common name in the past – there were loads of them!).

My favourite legend refers to a priest called Valentine. When the Roman Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for soldiers as he felt single men made better soldiers, this Valentine defied the order and performed secret marriage ceremonies for young lovers anyway. 

For this, he was executed around 270 AD. The February timing of our Saint Valentine’s celebration may refer back to the saint’s execution, but there is every chance that it has its root in a pagan ritual called Lupercalia which the Romans celebrated.

It was dedicated to Faunus, a god of agriculture and fertility, and to Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. 

Part of the festival was a ritual where young women put their names into an urn, and the bachelors of the community picked a name out. For the coming year, these pairs became couples, and many of these random combinations actually resulted in marriage.
During the early centuries of Christianity, these practices were (understandably) outlawed, but in the Middle Ages, a new idea took hold: it was thought that birds began looking for a mate around Saint Valentine’s Day. 

The poet Geoffrey Chaucer 14th-century poem is the earlier record of this idea with his poem “The Parliament of Fowls,” in which “Seynt Valentynes day” is the day “whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make” . 

The idea caught on. The earliest Valentine’s note to be sent goes back to the aftermath of the Battle of Agincourt when Charles, Duke of Orleans, wrote to his wife from captivity in 1415. His poem refers to her as ‘my very gentle Valentine’. Tragically, he never saw her again.
William Shakespeare and John Donne both cemented Saint Valentine’s reputation as the patron of romantic love. But it was the Victorians who really turbo-charged the tradition – they went into romantic overdrive with ever more elaborate Valentine’s cards and greetings. 

These could be shop bought, commissioned or best of all, home-made and were commonly decorated with love birds, hearts and Cupid – pretty much the Valentine’s Day that we know today.
Writing Challenge: I thought it would be fun to create a Valentine’s poem to an inanimate object that you love: a toy, a book, a favourite item of clothing. Include descriptions and imagery of what the item means for you, and perhaps the reaction it prompts for you – do you tremble whenever you go near? 

Is it the light and the life of every hour? The more exaggerated and over the top, the more entertaining it will be! We at the Time Tunnellers would love to see your work if you are willing to share it. Find us on social media @TimeTunnellers.

Wednesday 31 January 2024

Local Legend Edith Nesbitt, with Time Tunneller Matthew Wainwright

My children love Edith Nesbit’s books. I love them too! I remember reading them when I was younger, and now my children listen to them in the car on the way home from school.

You’ve probably heard of some of her books, even if you haven’t read them: The Railway Children is probably her most famous, but she also wrote Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Story of the Amulet, and The Enchanted Castle (as well as many, many others!)

At the time Edith was writing, over 100 years ago, she was just as famous as any best-selling children’s author today. Children awaited each new book eagerly–and with good reason.

Edith had a ferocious imagination, writing stories full of magic, adventure and drama, and she understood how children think: what they love, fear and desire.

Her depiction of sibling relationships is note-perfect, capturing the little jokes and quarrels that exist between brothers and sisters, as well as the fierce loyalty that can turn in an instant to bitter hostility, then back again in the next second!

You may be wondering why I am writing about Edith Nesbitt. Well, as it turns out she lived for a while not very far from where I live now – in Eltham in south-east London!

Her home was a place called Well Hall, an 18th century manor house which was built on the remains of a much earlier, medieval manor house of the same name.

Interestingly, there were two manor houses recorded in Eltham in 1100: East Horne and Well Hall. Neither manor is still standing (unfortunately) but their names remain.

Well Hall gives its name to Well Hall Road and Well Hall Pleasaunce – a sort of small park or garden – and East Horne manor lives on in the neighbourhood of Horn Park, which is in fact where I live!

As I said, the original medieval Well Hall manor was pulled down and rebuilt in the 18th century, but the barn that was built next door in the Tudor era remains, and is home to the Tudor Barn restaurant today.

Edith Nesbit lived in Well Hall from 1899 to around 1920. During this time she wrote many of her most famous novels, including the ‘Psammead Series’ (Five Children and It; The Phoenix and the Carpet; The Story of the Amulet), The Railway Children and The Enchanted Castle.

If you visit Well Hall Pleasaunce today (as I did) you’ll find some lovely wood carvings of the Psammead (the sand fairy from Five Children and It), the Phoenix (the magical fire bird from The Phoenix and the Carpet) and a dragon in honour of the many magical creatures Edith Nesbit wrote about.

I had a great time walking in Edith’s footsteps (you can see my outing in the video that goes with this blog post). It was wonderful to walk where she would have walked, and to think what she might have seen and smelled and heard when she lived there.

The place would have been a lot quieter, with no main road, much fewer shops, and the whole place consisting of a small village in the countryside rather than a busy London suburb.

Despite these differences, however, it was very moving to have that connection to someone who was so influential in children’s writing.

Later in the day I visited Railway Children Walk in nearby Grove Park. It’s not much – just a narrow footpath behind some houses, leading to a bridge over a railway line – but as I walked down I had the sensation of walking away from the bustle of London and into a quiet place all by itself.

It was as if I was walking back in time to that period when there were fewer cars and no planes, no mobile phones and no internet. Back, in fact, to the era of The Railway Children, when trains ran on steam and the two World Wars hadn’t happened yet.

It reminded me that history isn’t confined to the past: it’s all around us. Sometimes it’s hidden, and you have to go digging for it; but sometimes you’ll come across it quite suddenly and unexpectedly.

It’ll be there in a place name, a street sign, a plaque on a wall or a rise in the ground. If you don’t know what it is you’ll probably miss it – but if you go out in your local area with an idea of what to look for you’ll find the past rushing up to meet you.

With that in mind, here’s this week’s Writing Challenge. In fact it’s not so much a challenge as an adventure!

Your challenge is to find out about a person who lived in your local area a long time ago, and see if you can find anything of them left behind, and record it on the sheet. They don't have to be very famous, but it would be good to know if they did something important or helpful.

You might not find much. It might just be a street name; it might be a house where they lived; it might be a path they used to walk along. Whatever it is, see if you can find it, and either draw it or take a picture.

Then write a description of the place as it might have looked when that person was alive. If it was long enough ago it might have changed a lot – or it might not have changed at all! Either way, it’s fascinating to think about how the past relates to the present. Include the person in your scene if you can.

Enjoy the activity, and happy time tunnelling!

Thursday 25 January 2024

Lost Legend, Lily Parr by Lindsay Galvin

In 1905 the football legend Lily Parr was born. Some readers will be frowning; they’ve never heard of Lily Parr, so how can she be a football legend?

 Ah, but that’s exactly why Lily’s story is so fascinating!

Lily Parr was the fourth child of a hardworking family, living in the industrial outskirts of the city of Liverpool. The gas-lit, smoggy streets running between rows of back-to-back housing, were where this small girl decided she much preferred a kick about with her brothers to household pastimes. The older boys soon stopped laughing at little Lily when they saw the strength of her kick, speed and skill. 

Lily Parr’s school portrait

When World War 1 began in 1914, Lily was nine years old. Britain needed every available man to defend Europe from invasion by the Germans. Men and boys signed up to join the army in their thousands, but it wasn’t enough, and soon it was compulsory for young fit men to go away to fight.

The normal pattern of life turned on its head.  With huge numbers of men at war, the women and girls now worked in the factories making the ammunition needed by the army. They played football in their breaks, and soon began playing matches against other factories.

Crowds flocked to watch matches played for wartime charities, and the quality of the ladies football game grew. With so many men at war, women’s football surged in popularity with matches every weekend.

When the war ended in 1918, the men began to take their factory jobs back from the women, who were expected to return to their roles in the home. But ladies football had become a very popular sport in its own right. Some of the teams had legions of adoring fans.

By 1919, aged just 14, Lily Parr was nearly 6 foot tall, strong and fit. Her football skills had not gone unnoticed. She was playing for a local ladies team, when she was talent spotted by the best team in the country, Dick Kerr Ladies, based at the factory of the same name. Offered a factory job, a family to board with, and a chance to play for money, her concerned parents are forced to agree. Lily loved football and this was her big chance.

In Lily’s first season with Dick Kerr Ladies, she scored 43 goals. By 1920 her skills were being noticed by a wider audience and she was considered a star. 


Lily Parr Scores! is published by Big Cat for Little Wandle Fluency. 

Lindsay Galvin is the author of Darwin's Dragons, My Friend the Octopus and The Call of the Titanic. After working for over 20 years as a teacher, Lindsay is now a full-time writer. To find out more visit

World Book Day special : The history of children's books by The Time Tunnellers

If you go into a bookshop or library today there will be a Children’s Section – of course there will. And you will be spoilt for choice. The...