2012 - Nathan Pepper, 12, isn't too happy about moving from London to a small village in the country because of his dad's new job, especially since it doesn't seem to have a skateboard park anywhere. And it doesn't help that the first night in his new house, Nathan wakes up suddenly, hearing a strange noise. Creeped out, he nevertheless decides to see what it is. Going up the stairs to another bedroom, Nathan can hear distinct crying but even stranger, when he opens the door, the bedroom is completely changed - no longer neat, clean and shiny, now it was a dirty, dusty attic with a little boy under a thin blanket sobbing for his mum.
Jimmy's life with the Cribbins family is much worse than expected. He sleeps in a lonely, dark attic, he does most of the chores in the house, and than he is sent outside, not allowed back in the house til evening. And he isn't fed much either, so now he was starving. Nathan brings him some cake, but when Mrs. Cribbins finds somes crumbs in Jimmy's bed, he is accused of stealing their food and is given no breakfast.
Totally baffled, Nathan continues to go upstairs at night to find Jimmy again, but to no avail.
Meantime, in 2012, Nathan starts at his new school and things begin to look up for him as he makes friends and finds fellow skateboarders; and in 1940, Jimmy begins school, too, but only after doing his chores. And, though the two Cribbins children ride the bus, Jimmy is made to walk the long distance to school. He no sooner arrives and he is picked on by a group of boys resentful of evacuees. While two hold him down, another boy, Frank, takes an industrial staple gun from behind the school and staples Jimmy's back. The only good part of that day is that Jimmy discovers that his twin, Patrick, is at the school, too.
That night, Nathan is able to visit Jimmy again in the upstairs bedroom and once more, he brings the starving, now injured little boy some food.
But can Nathan help Jimmy across the years? In the autumn, he is able to visit Jimmy fairly often, bringing him food and company, but as winter begins, it becomes more difficult. Nathan's concern for Jimmy is really peaked when he sees a picture of the twins boys in a newspaper article about the village's evacuees. And later, in another article, he learns that Jimmy has died from malnutrition. To make matters worse, Nathan's Aunty Miranda comes to stay indefinitely in the upstairs bedroom, and he fears he won't be able to see and help Jimmy before it is too late. So, Nathan decides that desperate times call for desperate measures and he hatches a really stinky plan to drive his Aunty M out of that room and into another. But, can a stinky plan succeed?
Shalini Boland based A Shirtful of Frogs on the real experiences of her father-in-law, Paul Boland, who was evacuated with his twin Peter at the age of 5. And in writing his story, she has brought attention to this important, yet disturbing and sad aspect of evacuation. Most of us probably think that the people who took in the WWII evacuees from London were such kind, caring, concerned people, sometimes strict but not abusive. But actually that wasn't always the case. Kids like Paul Boland/Jimmy Sweeney were abused, starved and used as free servants while the people they lived with collected the government money meant for their care, and used it for their own family's benefit.
Boland says she created Nathan to give Jimmy a needed friend in this well-written time-slip story, but of course, that doesn't happen in real life. A Shirtful of Frogs is, in effect, a wonderful tribute to Boland's father-in-law and all the children who suffered the way Paul/Jimmy did when their parents trustingly sent them off to live with strangers in what they believed would be relative safety.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the author
Click here to enter a Goodreads Giveaway in progress until October 31, 2012 for a signed copy of A Shirtful of Frogs open to US, CA and GB residents.
This trailer for A Shirtful of Frogs is interesting both for the book's promotion and for its use of public domain actual footage:
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