Told through the eyes of Pet, the youngest member of the family who live in the lighthouse, ‘Our Castle by the Sea’ is an exciting adventure story set during the Second World War.
Petra’s world- filled with her German born mother, her father, her older sister, Mags, and the lighthouse- has been full of love, laughter and stories of the sea. The outbreak of war brings this to an end as their home becomes threatened, her mother is interned and her father and sister start to behave strangely. Everyone seems to have secrets and as things go from bad to worse, Pet has to find the courage to save her family.
Beautifully written, this compelling story is a real pleasure to read. The internment of civilians born in Germany, Austria and Italy is not something often talked about in primary schools, but it is a very real part of our history. Neighbours turned on those who had previously been part of their community as patriotism turned quickly to bigotry and the reader shares Pet’s confusion and horror as this happens to her own mother and others in her village. This suspicion of and lack of tolerance for others sadly has become a very current issue and the story allows for empathy for those in this position to be developed and for discussions about the senselessness of prejudice. Many of those who were settled in England before the war did so to escape persecution and injustice; people migrate for all manner of reasons and have always done so.
The story also highlights the very best in people- the lengths people will go to to protect those that they love, the sacrifices that they will make to ensure their safety, even when this is misguided. Pet feels increasingly isolated as her family try to protect her from what is happening and she shows great resilience and bravery as she solves things herself. Even when no one believes her and she feels truly alone, her courage doesn’t fail.
The legend of the Daughters of the Stone is cleverly woven through the story, adding to Pet’s deep sense of connection to her home and the place she loves. The stones are her ‘rock’, her connection to her father and the stories he used to tell and add a fantasy element to the book.
There is so much potential for using this book in school. As well as lending itself to lots of role play, discussion, writing and pleasure, the story is full of historical detail. Lighthouses being painted, various government acts, rationing, gas masks, evacuation, bombings all form part of the background to this exciting adventure packed with excellent characters. It offers the chance for a different approach to learning about this period of history and about excellent writing!
‘A Castle by the Sea’ is highly recommended and will be suggested as one of our teacher book group reads this term. It really is fantastic stuff!
Our Castle By the Sea Lucy Strange
Chicken House ISBN: 978-1911077831
You can read our review of ‘The Secret of Nightingale Woods’ here.