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By Chris Priestleyauthor and freelance writer

From ancient myths to World War II, author, Chris Priestley, reviews a selection of historical fiction books…

Hannah Goslar Remembers

Hannah Goslar Remembers by Alison Leslie Gold (Bloomsbury, £5.99 PB)

Suitable for: boys, girls, older readers, more able readers and for reading aloud.

The very best children’s books are often about friendship, and this book has a very special one at its core: the friendship between Anne Frank and Hannah Goslar. Anne is a ghostly presence throughout the book, disappearing early on only to tragically reappear in the harrowing concentration camp section at the end. The inevitability of Anne’s fate does not make it any less heartbreaking, but the resilience of Hannah is an inspiration. Any writer approaching such a subject has a huge responsibility to those involved, and Alison deserves enormous credit for bringing us Hannah’s story and for doing it so well.

The Hound of Ulster

The Hound of Ulster by Malachy Doyle (A&C Black, £4.99 PB)

Suitable for: boys, girls, younger readers and for reading aloud.

The blurb describes this as a ‘well-known’ tale, but one of the strengths of Malachy’s book is that the myth of Cuchulainn is not so well-known outside of Northern Ireland. This is the story of the boy, Setanta, who dreams of being a Red Branch Knight. Through his strength and courage, he becomes known as Cuchulain – the Hound of Ulster – and a famous hero of many more stories. The tale of a plucky child defeating all obstacles in his path (including adults and wolves) has obvious appeal. The story is briskly told and very nicely illustrated.

Anne’s lucky,’ Mrs Goslar exclaimed. ‘If only we had some way to leave. We’d vanish too!


Mythology by Dugald A Steer (Templar, £17.99 HB)

Suitable for: boys, girls and older readers.

There is so much to praise in this book. Everybody involved, from writer, Dugald A Steer, illustrators Nick Harris, Nicki Palin and David Wyatt, and particularly the designer, Nghiem Ta, deserve awards. Mythology not only brings the world of Greek myths to life, it makes the experience of reading exciting too, with pockets and flaps and even a shimmering gold death mask. Written in the form of a facsimile edition of Lady Hestia Evans’ 1820s travel journal, this book is a delight from start to finish and will be read and re-read. The fantastic website is equally inventive and well designed.

The Fire of Ares

The fire of Ares by Michael Ford (Bloomsbury, £6.88 PB)

Suitable for: boys, girls, older readers, more able readers.

It is good to see Ancient Greece reasserting itself as a subject matter for children’s books. This is the story of Lysander and of the pendant that has been passed down to him – the Fire of Ares. We are thrown into an unfamiliar world of Spartans and Helots (slaves) without much preamble, while some readers may find the names difficult, any early confusion is forgotten in this fast-paced and action-packed story. Michael has clearly immersed himself in this world and it is packed with convincing detail. Boys in particular will enjoy the descriptions of the bloody and brutal training regime involved in producing a Spartan warrior.

Raven Boy

Raven Boy by Pippa Goodhart (Catnip, £5.99 PB)

Suitable for: boys, girls, older readers and for reading aloud.

This is the story of Nick Truelove, his friendship with a raven and his hatred for the King, all set against the backdrop of that perennial favourite with children – the Great Fire of London of 1666. The story begins, however, with the terrible plague that preceded that event and follows apprentice carpenter, Nick, as he gains entry to the Tower of London, intent on revenge against King Charles II, whom he blames for all his woes. Along the way, he forms a relationship with a clever raven and gets to meet the object of his hatred – King Charles II himself.

Will Shakespeare and the Pirate's Fire

Will Shakespeare and the Pirate’s Fire by Robert J Harris (HarperCollins, £5.99 PB)

Suitable for: boys, girls and older readers.

The young Will Shakespeare is caught up in an adventure involving the wizard, John Dee, the yet-to-be-famous Walter Raleigh and the Irish pirate, Grace O’Malley, in this Elizabethan romp.

I am the Great Horse

I am the Great Horse by Katherine Roberts (Chicken House, £6.99 PB)

Suitable for: girls, older readers and more able readers.

The ‘great horse’ of the title is Bucephalas – the famous horse of Alexander the Great. I am the Great Horse is a first ‘person’ account of the horse’s life with Alexander and a mysterious girl called Charm.

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The War and Freddy

The War and Freddy by Dennis Hamley (Catnip, £5.99 PB)

Suitable for: boys, girls, younger readers and for reading aloud.

There have been many books looking at World War II through the eyes of a child, but here those eyes are unusually young. Freddy is only three when war breaks out, making this book suitable for younger children.

Archie's War

Archie’s War by Marcia Williams (Walker, £12.99 HB)

Suitable for: boys, girls and older readers.

This is a bold attempt by Walker Books and author-illustrator, Marcia Williams, to make the horrors of World War I accessible to a young audience. It takes the form of ten year-old Archie’s wartime scrapbook.

Slave Girl

Slave Girl by Jackie French (HarperCollins, £5.99 PB)

Suitable for: girls and older readers.

It is always good to see an historical adventure story aimed firmly at girls. Hekja’s village is attacked by Viking raiders and she is taken as a slave, eventually making the fabled voyage to Vinland (America). Great book cover too.

Chris Priestley

Chris Priestley has written several historical books for children, both fiction and non-fiction, covering periods from the Battle of Hastings to World War II. The first of his Tom Marlowe series (which is set in the 18th century), Death and the Arrow (Corgi, £5.99 PB), was shortlisted for a Mystery Writer’s of America ‘Edgar’ Award in the US in 2004, and the third in the series, Redwulf’s Curse, won the Lancashire Fantastic Book Award in 2006. New World (Corgi, £6.99 PB) – a tale set against the backdrop of the Elizabethan colonisation of America in the 1580s, was published in May ‘07.



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