Monday, January 17, 2022

There's A War On! Hetty and the London Blitz: A World War II Survival Story by Jeni Walsh

Hetty and her friend Judy were being fitted for a gas mask. Mrs. Wallace pulled on my mask's straps tighter and tighter.

"All set," she said. "Take a breath, Hetty." I did.

The rubber smell filled my nostrils. I fought for air through the filter. As the air came through, my skin was sucked into the mask like a vacuum. I didn't want to take another breath, but what choice did I have?"

Hettie felt fear when she heard her parents whispering together. With her family still grieving from the death of her baby sister, her parents seems to have a secret they were keeping from Hetty and her little brothers, Oliver and George.

But when Germany invaded Poland, her parents told her that Britain was at war with Nazi Germany, and now the mask had to go with her everywhere. When the air raid warnings sounded, her family had to cover all windows and sit together with all the lights out at night until the the sounds of warplanes overhead stopped and the sirens announced the German bombers were gone. At first the aircraft only flew over, headed for southern England, but soon the sound of exploding bombs grew closer and louder.

The family worked every day to build a dugout bomb shelter in their backyard. For Hetti, going down into that tomb-like hole at night was terrifying, but as houses in their neighborhood began to be hit by the enemy bombs, they had no choice. Some nights the Blitz came so close that they had to run for the crowded subway tunnels, the Underground, to escape the giant blockbuster bombs. Huge gas-filled barrage balloons bloomed over the school and city to prevent the enemy aircraft from being able to see their targets below. Even the cemetary nearby was hit by a blast, with rotting bodies and skeleton left scattered all around.

But then Hetty's greatest fear came true. The government had recommended that all children should be evacuated to the country to protect them far from the bombardment. Hetty and Oliver and little Georgie might have to leave their parents and go to live with strangers in the countryside.

And then a frightful thing happened.

A bomb hit the house next door. JUDY!

Mum was standing behind her, with George on her hip. She had tears in her eyes.

"It's time," she said. "It's time for you and your brothers to leave London."

Now, for Hetty, "Leaving London was my way of being brave."

And Hetty, just turned thirteen, and her little brothers go to live in the north with three strange couples, not to be with their own parents for over five years, five years of scarce, rationed food and loneliness for their home, Hetty separated from her brothers placed with two other families in a small farming town in the north of England, in Jeni Walsh's Hettie and the London Blitz: A World War II Survival Story (Girls Survive) (Capstone Books, 2021). Hetty was not to return to her parents and home for five years, but she dedicated herself to writing letters and helping her brothers remember their parents until word came that Hitler was dead and Germany had surrendered. It was V-E Day, Victory in Europe Day, and time to go home and begin to live in a new world for Hetty, George, and Oliver.

With simple but straightforward storytelling, Jeni Walsh gives middle readers, for whom World War II is long-ago, distant history, a sense and taste of the lives of the "removed" children" whose childhoods' were deeply changed during the war years, but saved to make the future in which today's children live.

Says School Library Journal, " Readers will be touched by Hettie's dedication to her family, her tenderness as an older sister, and her ability to keep happy memories alive from better times. Likewise, readers will be moved by the generosity of secondary characters in the English countryside like Hettie's foster mother who is initially cold, but warms up after sharing her own family story." With soft sepia illustrations by Jane Pica, there are also a glossary and author's notes appended.

Other historical fiction books in the Girls Survive series include Rebecca Rides for Freedom: An American Revolution Survival Story (Girls Survive), Charlotte Spies for Justice: A Civil War Survival Story (Girls Survive), and Molly and the Twin Towers: A 9/11 Survival Story (Girls Survive).