School for Skylarks

School for Skylarks

School for Skylarks
Sam Angus

Macmillan Children's Books

ISBN 9781509839599

It is 1939. When Lyla is evacuated from her home in London to her great-aunt's enormous house in the West Country, she expects to be lonely. She has never been to school nor had any friends, and her parents have been at the centre of a scandal. But with the house being used to accommodate an entire school of evacuated schoolgirls, there's no time to think about her old life. Soon there is a horse in a first-floor bedroom and a ferret in Lyla's sock drawer, hordes of schoolgirls have overrun the house, and Lyla finds out that friends come in all shapes and sizes.

Librarian's Book choice

Lyla has to leave her home in London to be evacuated during WW2 and finds herself living with her Great Aunt in a large country house. All she wants is to escape and return to her mum (Mop) but her letters home go unanswered. In the meantime, the house is taken over by school girls who are all also being evacuated but Lyla finds it hard to make friends and has a lot to learn about other people. Add to this the fact that there is a horse that eats welsh rarebit and a butler who makes paper aeroplanes and you have the makings of a touching and sometimes funny story.

Reading this book was a delight and reminded me of my experience of reading both the Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett when I was a child, in the sense that the lead character has a very insular view of the word which slowly expands over the course of the book, moving from very self involved to understanding the needs of others.

I have put 9+ for the age but I am hoping my just turned 8 year old daughter will give it a try as I think she would really love it. The book also has echos of Mallory Towers with the school related drama and the forming and finding of friendships.

The story uses the unreliable narration of Lyla to tell of her unfolding understanding of her family situation which is sensitively dealt with. At times I felt frustrated with her lack of empathy but that is entirely the point of the story!

The story also leads to a better understanding of the events of WW2 without glorifying or gorifying it. The plight of prisoners of war is not often featured as part of study of WW2, concentrating more on fighting or the holocaust and this book gently deals with the human cost to those involved in a way that was educational without being too intense for younger readers.

My favourite character is the Great Aunt who, although seeming a bit batty, is in fact a shrewd and astute woman who deals gently with her great niece as she tries to steer her towards adulthood. I particularly liked her constant mispronunciation of the fierce headteacher's name (on purpose of course) and her unflappable nature in the face of Lyla's antics.

I can see why this book has been selected for the 'Look Beyond Your World' campaign as it is a great story to lift your view from just yourself to those around you. A lovely coming of age story with easy to read print and shortish chapters, making it more appealing to less confident readers. I really thought it was great.

344 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Alison Urquhart, school librarian.


Reviews

School for Skylarks5/5

School for Skylarks

Sam Angus

Review

It's 1939, war is raging and evacuee Lyla Spence finds herself despatched to the bucolic safety of the Welsh countryside and into the care of her madcap Great Aunt Ada. Fearing that she has been 'stolen' from her mother, Lyla rages at her devoted father and determines to escape Ada's eccentric idyll. But her escape attempts are continually thwarted, so fuelled by her sense of utter injustice, Lyla puts a new plan into action and offers Ada's sprawling, gothic home, Furlongs, to the Government. An action she is certain will see her sent straight home.

The Ministry of Works soon set plans in motion but instead of a home for Soldiers as Lyla had planned, Garden Hill School for Girls moves in and Furlongs is changed forever. Stubborn, fierce Lyla suddenly finds herself dealing with subjects she doesn't understand and girls she has nothing in common with. The only saving grace is the friendship of the savvy and caring Cat, who can see beneath Lyla's tough exterior and helps her to adjust to her new routine.

Many adventures follow, particularly when Ada takes over the school and instates her own unique brand of education which consists of history backwards, currants (current affairs) and the removal of French (unnecessary) from the curriculum!

This is one of the loveliest books I've read in a long time. Despite a truculent heroine, this a book to warm the heart and make you smile. The writing flows and feels effortless, and there are many brilliant quotes and witty phrases. I can't recommend this highly enough - how I wish I had been lucky enough to attend the 'School for Skylarks'!

344 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Clare Wilkins, school librarian.

Reviewed by: Clare Wilkins