Recommended for ages 9-12.
Release date: March 25, 2014
Award-winning Australian author Sonya Hartnett returns to World War II in her latest historical novel for middle grade readers. The Children of the King blends a paranormal ghost story with historical fiction; it takes place in England at the beginning of the Second World War, and the novel begins with the young and somewhat spoiled Cecily and her older brother Jemmy moving from their comfortable upper-class existence in London to the equally comfortable country home of their uncle, to be safe from bombs that are expected to soon begin falling on London. Their father, who appears to be someone important to the war effort, is left behind in London. Unlike other child evacuees, they are fortunate to be with their mother while other evacuees are taken in by total strangers. Cecily begs her mother for them to take in an evacuee too, and she chooses a young girl close to her own age named May. Cecily expects the younger May to be her little pet, obeying her in everything.
May, however, has a mind of her own, and soon is off exploring the countryside, where she discovers the ruins of an old castle. The castle is inhabited by two young brothers, dressed in fancy, old-fashioned clothes--are they evacuees who have run away from their new home? Or could they be something more amazing--and be somehow connected with the story that Uncle Peregrine tells them (and the reader) in bits and pieces? This story is the history of Richard III and the nephews he imprisoned in the Tower of London. The young princes' story is interwoven with that of the three modern children, all of whom are coping with the war in their own way. Hartnett does not spare the reader from some very vivid descriptions of the London bombings, which are contrasted with the peaceful existence in the countryside.
This is a beautiful and touching war story, with a ghost story woven in for good measure. As you might expect, the two stories intersect in a magical way toward the end of the novel (no spoilers). An afterword with some more information about the young princes in the tower and the London Blitz might have been a good addition, to provide some historical facts and context to go with the uncle's tales.