Strong young characters, a solidly researched historical storyline and expressive illustrations work well here, as they did in Berten and Schott’s previous partnership (Littsie of Cincinnati, 2003).
Joining the ranks of books about children evacuated from London during World War II, Jake and Samantha, or Sam, ages 10 and 8, find themselves in Pevensey in 1940 under the care of the horrible Miss Bottomley. Sam is easily tired by her leg braces, a result of having polio, but Miss Bottomley still forces both children to do all the chores, remain outdoors for long hours in the cold, and barely gives them anything to eat. After one particularly bad morning, the siblings befriend both Miss Bottomley’s pet ferret, Fulham, and Brother Godric, a monk who maintains the ruins of the local abbey. Descriptions of life as an evacuee and the fear of German bombing are interspersed with tales of English history. Berten includes gas mask drills and home front guards while also covering the destruction of monasteries under Henry VIII, the problems of medieval lepers in England and more. Schott’s illustrations are well spaced, well envisioned and complement the text. The seemingly pat ending, in which medieval treasure is found and the children are reunited with their parents, is actually well researched. Fulham’s discovery of a secret area in the abbey is in character for the burrower, and British law does indeed allow for treasure hunters to be paid the full value of their finds. The only resolution that feels rushed and far-fetched is Miss Bottomley’s sudden turnaround of character after a childhood admirer professes his affection. Fans of the Chronicles of Narnia are rediscovering this era in history, and Berten, without the fantasy setting of the classic series, helps the reader find magic in exploring new settings and uncovering medieval history.
The Germans may have failed to destroy England, but this book hits its target.