Sunday 31 January 2016

Ghost soldier by Theresa Breslin

Ghost soldier by Theresa Breslin (Doubleday, 2014)

33 chapters; 291 pages (but fairly large print)

Subjects: World War One, England, Borders, Scotland, trains, animals, dogs, hospitals, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

The author’s website calls this “a mystery plus detective story with poignant scenes as two children, in a desperate search for their ‘missing-in-action’ father, meet the staff and wounded men on the hospital trains that stop near their farm”. The mystery/detective element is related to strange goings-on in an old house in the woods, a suspected German spy and a shadowy ghost figure in an upstairs window.

I liked the relationship between brother and sister Rob and Millie; the focus on how those at home coped – or didn’t cope - while the husbands and fathers were away at war, and the details about how dogs could be taken away by the army (which is why they try to save their puppy, and how they end up hiding it at the old house in the woods). Thousands of dogs were needed in the war so many families must have had to give theirs up, willingly or not. The story of the ambulance trains was interesting, too, although I was never clear about whether they did or didn’t try to take injured soldiers to a hospital near their home.

I found some of the action a bit hard to believe; either too many coincidences, or too unlikely (would they really have let the children on board the train? would they have let the wounded soldier wander round the grounds so freely at night?) but this post by the author about her research suggests that the ambulance trains did stop in the countryside like this.

In this review, Theresa Breslin said she started writing the book because she “was asked to provide a story for a film company and this was a story I felt needed to be told”. So I wonder if that means there is a film underway?

Author’s website
I didn’t know anything about Theresa Breslin before I read her book Remembrance, but according to her website, she was born and brought up in a small town in Scotland, worked as a mobile librarian, has written over 30 books for children and young adults and won the Carnegie Medal for Whispers in the graveyard (1994) about a dyslexic boy. Her website also provides teaching notes for the book. 

Other books you might like:
Remembrance is another book about World War One by Theresa Breslin, but for older readers.
The Anzac puppy by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles is written for younger readers about a dog in war time.

Things I didn’t know
The details about blood transfusion are intriguing. Today we take blood banks for granted but back in WW1 they were still figuring out the science of blood groups and anticoagulants. 
You can read about "A brief history of blood transfusion" at the Institute of Biomedical Science, or find out more at the Science Museum

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