I am not sure how I heard about this book – I think it was on someone’s book list and I saw it was a story about the plague so I thought why not, we have not read any stories on living through the plague and it our local library had a copy.
It is a story about the plague, about the desperation of people living in the time of the plague and it does talk about things like being in the same room or touching something and then catching the plague which I think does emphasis how hard it was to live during that time. It also enforces how “simpler but harder” things where in 1660, how if you did get sick there was no proper medicine to help you get better, no heating to help with the cold, no lights or even running water. Which I think is always good for the kids to read in a story. It is good for them to read about life in the past and how everyday tasks took longer.
The story starts in Yorkshire in modern day life and it starts with a family out on a hike. The weather turns and the three kids end up taking shelter in a barn, separated from their parents. While they are in the barn the oldest child Catherine starts feeling strange, like she has been there before and suggests to her siblings that they play a game pretending that they are living in the past. As the game starts so the reader is transported back into time to 1660 where three siblings are being taken up to the same barn to isolated from the village, where people are dying from the plague (their parents do not stay with them in the barn as they are concerned they may have the plague). The author helps to distinguish between the different time periods by the way in which the children speak when they are in 1660 there is a lot of “tis and thy” which is very effective.
The story follows the three siblings as they try to survive the winter on their own, isolated in their barn. It is not an action packed story but it is more an emotional journey story. You read how the kids cope with life on their own and how even though at times it feels hopeless they persevere and never give up. I do think that as much as it is a story about the plague it is also a story about determination and hope. My daughter and I were both drawn to Catherine how she just keeps slogging on, no matter how desperate is feels she never gives up. I felt like the author developed the character of Catherine beautifully and you really go on a journey of discovery with her.
The story itself is a lovely tale but what really struck me was the way in which the author structured the tale. I thought using a time slip was very interesting and it was a great example of how it can be done effectively to create an interesting account of a historical event. After reading this story my daughter and I actually discussed the difference between a flashback and a time slip so it ended up creating a great learning moment (for those of you wondering a flashback is when you go back in time in the characters memory whereas a time slip could be going back in time beyond the characters memory).
I would say this story suits kids aged 10+ just because I think younger kids might not get the full depth of the story. My thirteen year old read it and really enjoyed it. For her it was what I would call a quick read (192 pages) and I think she read it in two days but quick reads can be just as good as longer reads if there is something interesting about the way the author structures the story or the events included in the story. And this one ticked both of those for us, it covered an interesting event (the plague) and it had an interesting story structure (the time slip) and if that was not enough the author also created some intriguing characters with interesting character arcs.