Saturday, 25 February 2023

World Book Day special - The Time Tunnellers step into the shoes of a favourite character

Happy World Book Day everyone!

We’ve got some great news. We’re thrilled to be able to announce that we have a new member of the team!

Author Matt Wainwright in a flat cap
Author Matt Wainwright

Matt Wainwright, a previous guest poster for the Time Tunnellers is joining us to help dig for the stories in history – and share his love of reading and writing historical fiction for young people.

Matt is the author of the fantastic adventure, Out of the Smoke (Wakeman Trust), which tells the story of young Billy the chimney sweep who, when he finds himself plunged into the criminal underworld of Victorian London, must battle to survive against notorious gang leader, Archie Miller and his friends. Help, when it arrives, comes from a very unexpected source in the shape of the famous educational reformer, Lord Shaftesbury –  the ‘Poor Man’s Earl’. But will Billy’s pride let him accept the offer? And if he turns on Archie, will it mean freedom or certain death?

Book cover of Out of the Smoke by Matt Wainwright. The book is blue and shows a boy leaping between the rooftops in London

What’s it like to be joining our merry band, Matt?

'It's an honour! From the first time I saw the Time Tunnellers assemble I was struck by how enthusiastic and knowledgeable you all are. It's a fantastic initiative, sharing your love for history and the stories it contains, and I feel privileged to be a part of it. I'm also excited to share some of the things I've learned - there is so much to discover in the past, and leading children (and adults!) down some of those paths, exploring the nooks and crannies, will be a real joy. Thank you for inviting me into the team!'

Our pleasure!  We’re really looking forward to having you on board too!

In this week’s blog we’re celebrating World Book Day – and Matt’s arrival on the team – by stepping into the shoes of a favourite character in a great historical fiction read for young people. 

Ally Sherrick holding a copy of The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Ally Sherrick: Boy in The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
(Published by Chicken House Books)

I studied medieval history at university so it was brilliant to have the chance to travel back to those times again in the company of Murdock’s plucky underdog hero, ‘Boy’. When the story opens it is the year 1350 and Boy is looking after the goats that belonged to the lady of the manor before she was carried off by the plague. Boy is different from other people. He can talk with the animals and birds. But he is also taunted and called ‘Monster’ by his fellow villagers because of the hump on his back. So when a mysterious pilgrim stranger – Secundus – arrives in the village and offers Boy the chance to join him on a quest for seven priceless relics – ‘rib tooth thumb shin dust skull tomb’ – he decides to take the risk and join him.

I loved accompanying Boy as he experienced all the incredible sights, sounds and smells of the places he and his new master encountered on their long journey through France and across the sea to the tomb of St Peter in Rome.  And listening in on the conversations he has with the animals and birds he meets on the way. But it is the special secret he keeps hidden from others and which finally brings him the freedom and happiness he craves which enthralled me the most.

A great read for anyone who enjoys historical stories with a twist of magic realism.

Barbara Henderson: Moss in The Executioner's Daughter by Jane Hardstaff
(Published by Egmont)
I credit two books with sealing my love of historical fiction: Mary Hoffman's Troubadour and this, The Executioner's Daughter

The reign of Henry VIII is famous for its many executions - but what if your father is the one whose job it is to do the deed, again and again? Meet Moss. Growing up in the infamous Tower of London with only her taciturn dad for company, she longs to escape. The river flows past, carrying everything away with it - could Moss leave it all behind and find freedom? 

I loved the vivid descriptions of Tudor London, the dangers and secrets Moss has to navigate, and her reluctant friendship with streetwise Salter who survives by thieving. I was with Moss every step of the way, particularly when she realises that there are stranger, deeper powers at work beneath the surface of the Thames. 
My favourite chapter by a country mile was the one about the Frost Fair when the Thames froze over entirely - something that really happened! Moss encounters terrible danger, but so much beauty too. One of those books that stayed with me from the moment I read it almost a decade ago. 

Catherine Randall holding a copy of The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding

Catherine Randall: ‘Cat’ in The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding (Egmont)

This thrilling adventure story set in and around the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London is narrated by one of the most engaging fictional characters I’ve ever come across. Cat Royal is an orphan who has lived backstage in the theatre ever since she was rescued as a baby by the famous playwright and theatre owner, Mr Sheridan.

As soon as you open the book, you are in Cat’s shoes and completely immersed in the world of late 18th century London. Cat thinks that she is simply guarding a diamond for Mr Sheridan, hidden somewhere in the theatre, but then she becomes friends with the mysterious new Prompt and a talented young African violinist – the new sensation at Drury Lane. It soon becomes clear that much more is at stake than a mere jewel. You experience the sights, smells and characters of Covent Garden market, the backstage of the Theatre Royal and the drawing rooms of Grosvenor Square as if you were there, while Cat and her friends – a wonderful mixture of boys from street gangs and refined young aristocrats – battle to save the ‘diamond’ who is really hiding at the theatre, not to mention their own skins.
This novel is a heady combination of vivid, engaging characters with authentic historical and geographical detail.  

I think Cat is one of the great heroines of modern children’s literature. I couldn't put the book down.

Book cover of The Secrets Act by Alison Weatherby

Jeannie Waudby: Ellen in The Secrets Act by Alison Weatherby (Chicken House)

It would be scary but also interesting and exciting to time-travel back to the Second World War in Ellen’s shoes. She is one of two teenage main characters in The Secrets Act. The story begins with her journey to the codebreaking HQ, Bletchley Park, where she is going to become a codebreaker. I once met a 90-year-old lady on a train and she told me she had worked there during the war. When I asked her what she did, she looked at me and said: ‘It was secret.’

I felt the sheer strangeness of this situation through Ellen’s eyes, travelling from Wales on her own, arriving in the pitch dark of the blackout. Everything is strange and even asking questions feels forbidden and dangerous. This is a tense and exciting story – Ellen meets new people; so many of them young. But always there is the question: who can you trust? This story doesn’t glamourize Bletchley Park; in fact in many ways it feels like a hostile environment with threats and dangers lurking round every corner – including the danger of accidentally committing treason. But it’s also a story of true friendship. 

I recommend this book as a thought-provoking journey into a time of war.

The bookcover of Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Matt Wainwright: Stepping into the shoes of … Sig Andersson in Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Part of me wouldn’t actually enjoy stepping into Sig’s shoes. Throughout most of the book Revolver, Sig is threatened, bullied and held hostage in his family’s remote Alaskan cabin by the enigmatic and seemingly unstoppable Wolff - which would not make for a particularly pleasant experience!

However, Sedgwick wrote the book so well that you can’t help but feel that you’re right there in the scene with the characters. He conjures up the vast frozen wilderness of the far north of turn-of-the-century America in vivid, startling detail: the crack of ice, the buffeting of the wind, the crunch of freshly-fallen snow. You can see every clouded breath, smell the pungent odours of oil and gunpowder and fur, feel the creeping fingers of perpetual winter worming their way through every crevice … It’s a masterclass of description!

And in the end, of course (no spoilers!) Sig learns how to grow beyond his fear and find a way to stage a near-impossible escape. He’s the kind of character I love: one who starts the story as a person we recognise but wouldn’t necessarily want to be, but who gradually becomes someone we can admire. Which just goes to show that, no matter what era they are from, people throughout history are like us in many ways, with so much for us to learn.

Author Susan Brownrigg with My Friend the Octopus book by Lindsay Galvin

Susan Brownrigg: My Friend the Octopus by Lindsay Galvin
(published by Chicken House)

There is something very calming about wandering around an aquarium - the low light, the gentle movement of the fish and it is the perfect place for 12-year-old Vinnie Fyfe to find solace when she is abruptly sent away by her milliner mother to live with her aunt.

Vinnie loves to draw, and she is soon enchanted by the beauty of the aquatic life around her and especially a fascinating new arrival - an octopus! She quickly realises she has a special connection with the cephalopod and that they can communicate using colour.

I was enchanted by the gorgeous descriptions of how the octopus moves and learned lots about these intelligent, powerful creatures.

This wonderful adventure story is set in Victorian Brighton and the aquarium there - the world's oldest - still exists with it's beautiful period arcade having been lovingly restored. 

I loved exploring the aquarium with Vinnie and meeting her new friends - Charlie and Temitayo - who team up to solve a mystery which opens their eyes to cruelty close to home.

This book is so gripping you will think you have been grabbed by a tentacle or eight!

On this week's You Tube video the Time Tunnellers and our guest authors share their recommended historical reads for World Book Day - to watch CLICK HERE!


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