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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Review: Road to London by Barbara Mitchelhill

Author: Barbara Mitchelhill
Title: Road to London
Genre: Historical (children’s)
Series: none
Publisher: Andersen Press
Published: April 2012
Source: kindly sent for review by the author

Find it at Goodreads or Amazon UK

The blurb says:
When Thomas flees to London in search of life in the theatre, he meets his hero, William Shakespeare, and thinks his dream has come true. But Elizabethan London is a dangerous place full of scoundrels, treachery and murder. Thomas and his friend, Alice – a feisty girl with ambitions of her own – soon find themselves caught up in a treasonous plot to kill the queen. The question is: will they be able to find the villains without putting their own lives at risk? And what will happen to William Shakespeare if they don’t?

A galloping adventure with all the stink, grime and noise of Elizabethan London.

My verdict: a great historical adventure for kids.
I really enjoyed this one and am certain that confident readers will love it too. It would also make an enjoyable shared bedtime read for developing readers. The historical detail really brings the era to life: a child would learn a lot about the Tudor period by stealth as they enjoy Thomas’s adventures.

Thomas narrates the story and his charming voice quickly endears him to us. We first see him in his normal routine: attending school, interacting with his family, doing his chores and, of course, daydreaming of an acting career and idolising Shakespeare. These familiar activities, although the details are very different to modern children’s lives, will help contemporary child readers to relate to him as a young, ordinary lad with big dreams. He is rather naive and trusting, and this is highlighted more strongly once he meets and teams up with Alice, who is much more worldly wise. I really appreciated this dynamic, and the opportunities the plot provides for discussing gender issues. This is undoubtedly a book that will appeal to both genders, avoiding gender stereotypes and creating positive representations with believable and sympathetic characters.

The plot moves quickly, pulling us with Thomas and Alice into London as they dodge villains and struggle to survive. Characters are efficiently drawn and it is easy to feel you ‘know’ even quite peripheral characters. The presentation of Queen Elizabeth is deliciously disrespectful and a shining example of Thomas’s lively and realistically childlike voice.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to readers of around 8+ who enjoy adventure or are already interested in the Tudor period, Shakespeare or London. This book almost made me wish I taught younger kids so I could recommend it to them, or find some way of sneaking it into the curriculum. I shall content myself with recommending it here, and adding it to my daughter’s shelf.

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