Amidst the enormous pile of cullable books in my bedroom right now were these two books by Kit Pearson about British children evacuated to Canada. They’ve been there for a while because I started reading one of them and got bored, and then I never finished because I didn’t want to face the fact that I have these books about British children evacuated to Canada during World War II that I would not enjoy. That was sad for me. I like books about children being evacuated because of the Blitz. See also Michelle Magorian. Did you like Good Night Mr. Tom better, or Back Home better? Why didn’t Michelle Magorian ever write any other books?
So anyway these books are The Sky Is Falling and Looking at the Moon. They are about a girl called Norah who gets evacuated with her little brother Gavin to Canada. They go to live with two weird rich women who live Gavin much better than Norah because the mother rich lady lost her son in the First World War. Norah struggles to make new friends at school, and the one friend she does make is strenuously disapproved of by her host family. That is the first book. Since this is a book for children, everything eventually turns out okay, and Norah becomes a better big sister. In the second book she gets a crush on a much-older pacifist who ends up realizing that everyone hates war and it’s shirking not to go.
(As a pacifist, that kinda irritated me.)
I missed the window, is all I can say. If I’d read these books when I was a little girl, I bet I’d have liked them. I liked almost any book where the protagonists went off to live with a new party because their parents for some reason couldn’t keep them. But now I am old enough that I want more stuff to be going on. I want there to be themes. Like in Back Home (a book I feel awfully awfully fond of and would like to reread) there are all these themes about independence and returning to an old version of yourself after you’ve experienced another way of being. There was all this tension between the protagonist and her mother where the mother expected her to be the same after all those years but the protagonist had changed tremendously and basically thought of herself as American and wanted to have all these freedoms that her mother wasn’t expecting to have to give her; and there was something really similar happening between her mother and grandmother. And just, oh, Back Home. That book wrecks me. It is heartbreaking.
I remember Ana reading the Chronicles of Narnia a while ago and saying that she felt specifically, personally excluded by C. S. Lewis. That made me sad and it made me think that if I read the Narnia books for the first time now, I’m sure they would feel that way to me as well. I’m Catholic, which Lewis wasn’t and didn’t care for; and I’m a feminist, ditto times infinity, and I don’t like smoking and my sister’s a vegetarian, and these books are not set up to welcome me in. But because C. S. Lewis taught me what stories are starting at age three, this stuff isn’t what strikes me about the books. They feel like coming home (I’ve said this before but it remains true) no matter how many times I read them. I could not read them for the first time now and expect to ever have that experience when rereading them.
So what are some kids’ books on which you missed the window? Or books you loved as a kid and suspect you wouldn’t love quite so much if you read them for the first time now?