Nisha's War

Nisha's War

By Author / Illustrator

Dan Smith


Historical Fiction

Age range(s)



Chicken House Ltd




Paperback / softback




From acclaimed author Dan Smith comes a page-turning, atmospheric ghost story packed full of adventure and heart ... 

Malaya, 1942. Nisha's home is destroyed by war and she and her mother, Amma, flee to her father's ancestral house in England, perched on a cliff top on the cold Northern coast. When Amma falls gravely ill, Nisha is left to face her formidable grandmother alone. Grandmother's rules are countless, and her Anglo-Indian granddaughter is even forbidden from climbing the old weeping tree. But when a ghost child beckons Nisha to sit under its boughs, and promises her Amma's life in return for three truths, its pull proves irresistible...

A thrilling historical ghost story; full of adventure, grief, guilt, forgiveness and belonging A fresh angle on a wartime story: the prejudice Nisha faces as a refugee feels particularly relevant today Perfect for fans of Frances Hardinge and Emma Carroll.



When Nisha and her mother have to flee the war in Malaya, they receive a cold reception from Nisha's paternal grandmother in the north of England. When her mother falls ill shortly after their arrival, Nisha is left to face her formidable grandmother and racist locals alone. Scared, lonely and haunted by memories of the past, Nisha finds herself drawn to the Weeping Tree where she meets Twig, who tells Nisha she has to find three treasures and bring them to the tree before the full moon turns from gold to silver and all will be well.

Beautifully written, the haunting opening of Nisha's War is instantly captivating. Nisha and her mother are so vulnerable that the reader is filled with compassion and the desire to know more about them. Dan Smith then skilfully builds their story, mingling the present with the past in the form of 'Nisha's Truths' - diary sections where she recounts the events which have led her and her mother to this point.

Thrust into a new and alien world, Nisha shows great determination and resilience in the face of hostility. The fact that she is 'different', coming from Indian/ English parentage, being an 'outsider' and having partially lost her hearing due to a bomb blast all add to the wave of prejudice she encounters from many villagers. The contrast between scenes of the stark landscape of Barrow Island and the vibrancy and colour of Malaya, the threat of the Weeping tree and the safety of the banyan tree even with its ghosts, the sense of life before and life after skilfully emphasis her vulnerability and deepen the reader's empathy for her situation. She would be a wonderful character to explore with a class.  

The novel is richly written and there are many descriptive passages worth lingering over and sharing. Although the story would make an excellent class story, some of the passages about the war are quite graphic and so the audience would need careful consideration - Year 6 and above - before reading. A 'Did You Know?' section and glossary of terms further enrich the reader's experience.

The atmospheric cover illustration by Matthew Land is sure to tempt readers in and the end papers continue the interest, showing a range of pictures, posters, notes and objects which offer tantalising clues about the story ahead. The passage of time to the full moon - so significant for Nisha in the story - is marked by chapter headings and full page illustrations showing its changing face and emphasising the sense of urgency felt by Nisha as time passes. A stunning story!

368 pages / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher

Suggested Reading Age 11+


I am thrilled to have found the perfect accompaniment for our World War 2 unit! Nisha's War by Dan Smith gives a unique perspective of how World War 2 affected so many people in a plethora of ways, wrapped up in a pacey and absorbing adventure, and ghost story.

Nisha's War is set in 1942, during World War 2. Nisha and her mum, Amma, were forced to leave Malaya and evacuate to her grandmother's house, in northern England, leaving behind destruction and her father. Her grandmother's house sits on a cliff top, on an island at the end of a causeway. When Amma suddenly becomes worryingly ill and her grandmother's warmth is lacking, Nisha is left to discover Barrow Island on her own. She is forbidden from the mysterious, old weeping tree, but a ghostly figure provides Nisha with the one promise that cannot be ignored.

This war time story is packed full of thought-provoking moments, war time facts and experiences which all provide great opportunities and hooks for discussion and research in the classroom. The story also contains diary entries from Nisha's diary, which gives another view point to the story and opportunities to explore other writing genres.

This novel would perfectly sit alongside Emma Carroll's Letters from the Lighthouse and Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom to make a brilliant text-rich unit of work. I also love the northern dialect and Malay words dispersed throughout which continues to bring the story to life and could provide another interesting source for discussion. Now, I just need to patiently wait for our WW2 unit! I am really looking forward to use this with my Year 6 class and would highly recommend this book for children in years 4, 5 and 6. Thank you Dan Smith for a brilliant, capturing story; I cannot wait to read your next book!

368 pages / Reviewed by Nathan Cox, teacher

Suggested Reading Age 9+


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