Hilary McKay is a modern master -- one of those authors who will absolutely never let you down. I read these delightful books in the wrong order. My friend Sian (who knows my taste in children's literature) lent me The Swallows' Flight, and I adored it so much I immediately went on the hunt for its predecessor. To my dismay, The Skylarks' War (2018) couldn't be found in my local libraries or even in a bookshop. But then, on that very day, a secondhand copy appeared on Brotherhood Books. It was obviously fated to be!
I really, really loved this pair of books. Apparently kids are super keen on war stories at the moment, so I can't understand why these two novels haven't received more attention (perhaps they have been more feted in the UK). The Skylarks' War follows two families through the First World War, and the same characters and their children then live through World War II in The Swallows' Flight, along with a pair of German boys.
Hilary McKay has a genius for sketching characters in a few vivid strokes, or a couple of telling anecdotes; she is funny and warm and poignant. She excels at portraying cheerful family chaos, and also painful loneliness and misery. The children's father in Skylarks is such an awful cold character, but I didn't immediately recognise him as the awkward grandfather of Swallows; he is slightly redeemed! There are stark and colourful details about wartime, but these books wear their research lightly. These are two of the best children's books I've read this year.
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