Winner: Best Children's Book
Costa Judges: 'As perfect a novel as you could ever want to read.'
Even when McKay is writing about war, her prose always feels like a feather duvet. She can eke romance out of everything from the "gold-and-purple moor" of Cornwall to the contents of a farmhouse larder: "apple dumplings, brown eggs, saffron cake and raspberry tart". Any new story by Hilary McKay comes with high expectations... But this dense, beautifully unravelled family saga may be her best book yet.
The centenary of the First World War has inspired a dizzying amount of new historical children's fiction to choose from - but this glorious and glutinously scenic novel by Hilary McKay is one nobody should miss... McKay pays tribute to Things a Bright Girl Can Do, Sally Nicholls's coming-of-age novel about three teenage suffragettes - and, as with Nicholls, McKay's book has a clear feminist theme... Even when McKay is writing about war, her prose always feels like a feather duvet. She can eke romance out of everything from the "gold-and-purple moor" of Cornwall to the contents of a farmhouse larder: "apple dumplings, brown eggs, saffron cake and raspberry tart". Any new story by Hilary McKay comes with high expectations. Her first novel, The Exiles (1991) won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize; Saffy's Angel (2002) won the Whitbread. But this dense, beautifully unravelled family saga may be her best book yet.
In this remarkable coming-of-age story we follow the children through 16 years of social change, culminating in Rupert’s enlistment in World War I and Clarry’s defiance of her father to gain an education... McKay is a superb writer, deftly spinning history into a family drama of emotional neglect, shameful secrets, unrequited love, loss and ultimate triumph over all of these in a funny, moving and emotionally insightful book that could, and should, be read by all ages.
This belongs among the classic of children’s literature... it is beautifully written, with crisp wit, understated drama and wry observation, reminiscent of E Nesbit. It handles the transition to the war without cliché — no mean feat. And the characters, including a boy unrequitedly in love with Rupert, several of Rupert’s girlfriends and Clarry’s hopelessly detached widowed father, are memorably imagined... Funny, sad, warm, it is about growing up and finding what you love, intellectually and emotionally.
The territory is familiar — War Horse, Things a Bright Girl Can Do (books recommended in the author’s note) anything by Blyton (the “apple dumplings” and no-nonsense parenting genuflect to her) — but McKay’s cleverness is that she makes it all fresh and new while making these beautifully drawn characters feel like old friends — in just 300 pages.
Like anyone who reads for a living, I approach books objectively but I'm always yearning for that rare novel that demands to be read in a single sitting. The Skylarks' War is one such book and I ignored my family and precipitous reading pile to devour it. McKay explores family, friendship, loss and growing up against the tumultuous backdrop of the First World War. This is McKay at her finest, all the heart and warmth of the Casson family books-with a touch of the Cazalets. It's both a thrilling family adventure and a truthful, heart-breaking examination of the impact of war. The evocative cover recalls vintage railway posters and was illustrated by Dawn Cooper....