Monday, December 5, 2011

On the Home Front: Growing up in Wartime England by Ann Stalcup

In this slender volume, Ann Stalcup shares her memories of living through the Second World War as a young girl in Lydney, England, along the Severn River and close enough to Bristol to remember seeing the fires that resulted from a revenge bombing by the Germans. 

Stalcup’s earliest recollections was of people digging trenches and being afraid of her government issued gas mask at the age of 3 in 1938, when as all of England was preparing for war.  Then, Ann's father joined the Air Raid Patrol (ARP) in their village, and her grandparents in Birmingham built an Anderson Shelter in their backyard in Birmingham.  A year later England was at war with Germany, but all those preparations didn't prepare Ann for war.

Stalcup achieves a nice balance in this book, giving historical events from a more personalized point of view.  One very interesting example is the rescue of troops at Dunkirk.  Ann and all the people of Lydney felt part of that rescue when they discovered that one of the small ships had once been the pride and joy of a local man.  He had to sell it, but the buyer wrote and told him that his form boat would be making the trip across the English Channel

Other memories goes are about life within her home.  Immediately after the war began, the Stalcups had two 11 year old evacuees from London, along with so many other evacuated kids that the schools couldn't accommodate them, so they had to resort to split sessions: mornings the Lydney students, afternoons the evacuees.  Soon, two more evacuees joined them, but they returned home when the expected German attacks on England never happened that first year of war. 

Despite rationing, the author remembers how her mother was able to give her a 5th birthday party in 1940, though when her mother explained to one little girl that the centerpiece was not a real cake, the girl burst into tears of disappointment.  But Stalcup had her own disappointment, recalling that Queen Wilhelmina of Holland had lived nearby with her family for a while after the Netherlands was invaded.  She thought queens should always dress in gowns and tiaras, as Queen Mary did when she saw her before the war and was very disappointed by Queen Wilhelmina's drab clothing.

This is a book full of memories and anecdotes that covers each year of the war.  There are stories about the prisoners of war who helped out on farms, and who formed lifelong friendships with the English people they worked for.  Stalcup covers topics like the blackout curtains that everyone was required to hang, about longing for new shoes and why she never got them, and the joys of having a baby sister because it increased their ration. 

On the Home Front: Growing up in Wartime England is told in clear, simple language, perfect for young readers.  There is a glossary of unfamiliar terms used at the end of the book, as well as a bibliography for further reading.  There is also a collection of pictures included, some are personal photos from Stalcup’s family, so are simply stock photos, but interesting nonetheless. 

I like Stalcup’s writing style, too.  She sounds like she is speaking to you directly, simply reminiscing and telling some events in her life.  It reminded me of when I used to ask my mother to tell me about “the olden days” meaning her life as a girl. 

I also liked that in a number of places, Stalcup writes about being scared or not really understanding the things that were happening around her. I think it is so beneficial to young readers to hear an adult admit that they were once afraid or confused as children, since these young readers probably have often felt the same way in today’s world.

But what stands out in the book is the collective picture of how the English pulled together to get through the war, and which even at a young age, Ann Stalcup seems to have been proud to have been a part of.  The war ended when she was 10 years old, and, she writes, she could no longer remember a time when England was not at war. 

This book is recommended for readers age 8-11
This book was borrowed from Huguenot Park Branch of the NYPL     

Ann Stalcup received the following well-deserved honors for On the Home Front: Growing up in Wartime England:
1999 Selected as a Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies by the Children’s Book Council.
1999 Selected as Outstanding Nonfiction Choice by The National Council of Teachers of English
1999 Selected as one of the 100 books on their 100 books on their Middle School California Collection list by the California Readers Committee

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by Gathering Books

On the Home Front: Growing up in Wartime England
Ann Stalcup
Linnet Books
91 Pages


  1. Hi Alex, your reviews are really unique. Each time I come upon books on children amid wars, I immediately thought of you and your blog. Next time I come across another title and found it good, I'll recommend it to you.

  2. My Christmas wish list is largely made up of books I’ve found via your reviews. I included Dark Hours last week and have just added On the home front. My husband will be delighted when he sees the length of the list. You provide the most entertaining reviews, thank you.

  3. This is a slice of history we don't see much about, but I know that my sixth graders will be fascinated. Thank you for sharing this!

  4. Very cool book. It's very important to have first hand accounts of those days.

    Great review Alex.

  5. Hi Alex, as I was reading through your review, I was immediately reminded of the NYRB book Charlotte Sometimes by British writer Penelope Farmer - have you heard of it? It's not your usual staple - it's fiction, but the theme is essentially the same with a dreamy-like quality to it as well. The overall feel/vibe/setting though remains the same. Thanks for participating this week. I loved the review too.

  6. Thanks for all your comments. This is an interesting post and was actually the genesis for my post Victory through Snap, Crackle and Pop earlier this fall.

    I hope you enjoy this book, if you read it. There was some interesting day to day stuff in it that I really was surprised at.

  7. I've just been through a reading stint where I seemed to have focused on books about WWII. This does sound interesting and worth looking for the Doucette Library (curriculum library). Thanks for the recommendation.
    Apples with Many Seeds

  8. Thanks for this one, Alex. It rings a lot of bells for those of us who remember wartime England! I can remember rolling around in my child's head a phrase that
    one heard a lot: "When the war is over . . ." it wasn't comprehensible because the war was all there was, the war was our lifetime. That we lived beyond it was our good fortune, and it is good that Stalcup can bring it again into the consciousness of the young.

  9. Very nice review! I like reading war stories told from children's pov. The good ones I've read this year include Uri Orlev's ISLAND ON BIRD STREET and Karen Hesse's WITNESS (though this one is really about the war on racism). This one sounds like a very good read, too!

  10. I was immediately reminded of the NYRB book Charlotte Sometimes by British writer Penelope Farmer - have you heard of it? It's not your usual staple - it's fiction, but the theme is essentially the same with a dreamy-like quality to it as well.
    British Food

  11. Wonderful review.

    I love historical fiction.