This compassionate sequel does the same with the Second World War as it continues the stories of kind-hearted Clarry and those she cares about: Rupert, Peter, Vanessa and Violet. It also introduces the next generation and, against a background of Kristallnacht and the Luftwaffe, two sympathetic German boys. The youngsters’ lives converge as they grow up and into themselves. Along the way we we see acts of understated heroism and appreciate the children’s sensibilities through witty prose that always rewards close attention. Separately and together, The Skylarks’ War and The Swallows’ Flight are pinnacles of children’s literature.
At last, a follow-up to The Skylarks’ War, Hilary McKay’s wonderful 2018 story of the Penrose family’s journey through the First World War. Now the children and young folk of that novel have grown up and made way for a new set of characters who must come of age while living through a different fight, with parents who have experienced the Great War and must endure its legacies.
It’s a resounding success — I adored the first but adored this more. McKay refuses to dumb down the history, writing with such clarity and understanding that you can’t fail to be caught up in the cares of her loveable cast. There’s a useful family tree at the back for those, like me, with memories like a shot-at tin helmet — as well as a helpful glossary.