War Orphans reminded me a bit of Cinderella. Joanna hasn’t got any ugly sisters but she’s saddled with a cruel, heartless stepmother who is more interested in having a good time than caring for the little girl.
This book, Lane’s 11th, is set in Bristol during the Second World War and is full of fascinating period detail, from blackouts and Andersen shelters to rationing and gas masks. The fact that children were evacuated to the safety of the countryside during the war is well known (my own mum lived in the Lancashire mining town of Leigh and was evacuated to North Wales). I didn’t know, however, that another government directive advised that all household pets should be destroyed. The rationale was that in the event of an enemy blockade there wouldn’t be enough food to spare for pets, which resulted in more than 300,000 pets being killed during the first ten days of the war.
Lane’s story relates how Joanna’s father goes off to fight for his country, leaving her in the care of her stepmother. Neglected and half-starved, Joanna finds a puppy in much the same condition as herself and resolves to save him. She hides her new pet in a shed and shares her own meagre rations with him before and after school each day, all the while trying to keep his existence secret.
War Orphans is a poignant, highly readable story. As the nights get shorter, draw the curtains, light the fire and curl up the sofa with this heart-warming tale.
War Orphans by Lizzie Lane (Ebury Press, £5.99)