By Author / Illustrator
Paperback / softback
The remarkable story of the Dick, Kerr Ladies is brought to young readers for the very first time by award winning and CILIP Carnegie nominated Eve Ainsworth.It's 1917, and Britain is at war. Shy teenager Hettie wants to help the war effort, and signs up to work in the local Dick, Kerr & Co. munitions factory. She's nervous, but she has no idea quite how much her life is about to change ... For, inside this factory are young women who are about to make sporting history. Can Hettie find the courage to join them, and in doing so, find her own place in the world?Based on the thrilling true story of the Dick, Kerr Ladies team - football's forgotten legends.
I have categorised this lovely book as historical fiction, but it covers so many themes - family, friendship and sport among others.
Kicking Off: Dick, Kerr Girls begins in 1917, during the First world War. Hettie Blakeford is 15, she lives with her mother, father and younger sister Martha. Her older brother Freddie has enlisted in the Army and is fighting in France. Freddie liked to play football and has passed some of his skill on to Hettie. The family live in 3 rooms of a terraced house; their father is withdrawn and drinks too much - an earlier accident has left him in constant pain. He hates to see Hettie playing football in the street, believing that women should not play 'a man's sport'.
Because so many men are away fighting, women are needed to help with the war effort, and, despite her young age, Hettie goes to work in the Dick, Kerr munitions factory in Preston. The work is dangerous; Hettie has to pack explosives into the munitions shells and the chemicals the women handle can even turn their hair and skin yellow.
Hettie meets a group of strong, capable women and girls at the factory, all great role models, and forms firm friendships with them. Many of the women love football and one in particular, Grace, comes up with the idea of forming a women's team. The men of the factory are challenged to a match, and everyone realises how good the women are. With the help of one of the managers, Mr Frankland, the women begin their journey as a team. The author has based her novel on a true story - the Dick, Kerr Girls did exist, and by searching the internet I found photographs of many of the women who played in the team.
The noise and bustle of the munitions factory are extremely evocative; later in the book Hettie also visits an army hospital and the author gives a poignant insight into the suffering of those soldiers who have been wounded and affected by the dreadful mustard gas used by the enemy.
This is a story full of wonderful characters. Hettie is brave and loyal, torn between obeying her father, who does not want her involved in the football team, and supporting her friends at the factory. We meet Grace, whose husband is in a prisoner of war camp, and Alice, who has lost a brother in the war. We also see the beginning of the struggle for women's rights and the Suffragette movement.
Hettie's family are complex and the author allows their story to unfold gradually. At first, we see Hettie's father as an angry, sullen man, but later in the book we learn more about him and how his life changed after his accident. One of the most moving sections in the book occurs when he and Hettie have a long talk and he tells her he is proud of her. Her mother, too, has had to give up her dreams and this makes Hettie more determined to hang on to hers.
I really enjoyed this book; I am delighted to see that it is the first in a series and I am eagerly anticipating the next instalment in the story of the Dick, Kerr Girls.
304 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Beverley Somerset, School Librarian
Suggested Reading Age 11+