It has been a while since I was a ten year old girl but I think I can remember enough to see that Emma Carroll’s stories are ideal for that age group. You are still a child so there is an awful lot going on which you are aware of but can’t quite understand – in In Darkling Wood the heroine Alice, possibly like any child with a very sick sibling, knows far more about heart transplants than a girl her age ought to but she can’t quite understand why she can’t stay home alone when her little brother is rushed into hospital. And you just know, like Alice, that you are too old for silly fairy stories.
Luckily this is not that kind of fairy story. These fairies are not cute and sparkly – Daisy Meadows would not recognise them at all – and they will do anything to save their home. The book alternates between plans to save Darkling Wood, which Alice’s grandmother wants to cut down, and a series of letters written at the end of the First World War. There are some nice parallels too as the letters are from a young girl to her soldier brother which contrasts nicely with Alice’s concerns for her own brother, Theo. The fairies, if you want to be all grown up about it, could probably be seen as a metaphor for something but to me they just seem to be something which helps a young girl make good decisions during a very stressful time.
That said this book is not preachy. Everybody makes mistakes and bad choices at some point, tempers are lost and harsh words are spoken. Alice resists the idea of fairies – she is, after all, a sensible and modern girl – but she does fall under the spell of the wood and joins in local plans to save it from destruction at the hands of her grandmother. At the end of the book family tensions are largely resolved (but the characters don’t suddenly become perfect, which is a relief) and throughout there is humour. There is, obviously, a certain amount of tension over Theo’s health – at some points you really doubt if he will make it – but nothing to make it unsuitable for readers over about nine years old looking for a story with mystery and real-life perils.
I also read a novella which is being published this week called The Snow Sister (think Giovanna Fletcher’s Christmas with Billy and Me for pre-teens) which would fit nicely into any Christmas holiday reading plans. This time we are in a Victorian setting but again the main character Pearl is a sensible girl who worries about her family, their sadness at losing her little sister Agnes and their worries about money. In the long tradition of Christmas stories there is snow, ghosts and a will but, unlike Dickens, I really enjoyed it. It was, for me, a very quick read but that could make it ideal for 9-12s looking for a quick read in between family visits, present-opening and the post-dinner blockbuster family film. The ending is slightly schmaltzy but if you can’t do that at Christmas when can you?