One for them: Rain
This has been a rather horribly apt new discovery for June. I can rememebr rainy summers as a child, but they were mostly of the boiling hot days and then a thunderstorm at 4pm kind of rainy, not wall to wall drizzle for what felt likes weeks at a time. Suffice to say that June was wet, in the reaching for a quilt and your fluffy socks kind of a way, and we’ve spent plenty of time reading Rain while watching the real thing trickling down the windows.
This is the story of a little boy who really really really wants to go outside to play, but it’s raining. He waits and waits and hopes and checks out of the window, but the rain just won’t stop. And Grandpa thinks it’s a really good idea to wait until it stops, even if you could meet sea monsters and ride boats and get up to all sorts of adventures.
Finally it stops and Grandpa sends him running for the wellies.
But this isn’t just puddle splashing on the way to the postbox, oh no. Along the way there are sea monsters and a floating carnival and rainbow raindrops to catch – and Grandpa even lets him post the letter.
Wellies and puddle splashing for the win; both for him, and my little trio who based on their unwavering ability to make a beeline for each and every puddle they encounter, whether appropriately shod or not, are taking it as less of a story, and more of an instruction manual.
It’s such a sweet book, and the illustrations are just gorgeous, really capturing both the longing to be outside and the riot of childhood imagination, and it’s quickly become a firm favourite around here.
One for me: The Kid on Slapton Beach
In 1943, 3,000 people were evacuated from the villages along Start Bay. Slapton Sands, a beautiful long shingle beach with a lea behind, was considered the best place for the US Army to practice for their landings on Omaha Beach and so the villages were cleared, and people, many of whom had never left the area in their lives, moved to stay with family, friends or just whoever would take them in.
They went. They gave up their homes, their communities, and in many cases their livelihoods in the hope that it would help. And in April 1943 Exercise Tiger began; a simulated attack on the beach. It was a disaster. When I was a child the story I heard was that a U-Boat had found the practice and fired on it, killing hundreds of people and sinking some of the landing craft, and there’s a tank in the car park at Torcross that was rescued from the bay and stands as a memorial to those who lost their lives. And while German E-boats did find the supporting convoy, leading to the battle of Lyme Bay, the casualties on the beaches, around 750 of them, were tragically victims of friendly fire when the ships out at sea shelling ‘France’ were unable to communicate with the troops landing on the shore. Because both the exercise and the aftermath were so sensitive, holding as they did, so many clues to the D-Day operations, it was all kept very quiet, and even now it’s not widely known, unlike say the sinking of the Royal Oak at Scapa Flow. There’s just the tank at Torcross and in the middle of the lea road a small memorial, shifted now from it’s original spot, a tribute to the villagers who gave up their homes.
The Kid on Slapton Beach overlays fictitious people with that snapshot of local history. Harry Beere, his mum and his baby sister are being evacuated from Torcross along with all their friends and neighbours. His Dad is missing in action in Italy, and with no other family to turn to for help, his Mum is forced to rely on the bullying attentions of the local ARP warden to get them settled in what to me is a quick nip up the road to Totnes, and to them would have been a lifetime away. It’s not a good move; Totnes is full to bursting with people evacuated from all over the South Hams, and the local residents aren’t exactly falling over themselves to help.
And worst of all, in the move, Harry’s one and only photo of his father has been left behind.
So back he goes, right into the middle of Exercise Tiger.
It’s a beautifully told story, bringing in so much of the stress and panic and strain of the displaced villagers along with the harder history. We were in Devon last weekend to visit my Dad and I picked up a copy in a Dartmouth bookshop, and by Sunday evening I’d finished it. I know for me it has particular significance because it tells the story of the places that are woven into my story too, but I think it would be a good read even if you can’t visualise each and every cottage and road. It’s certainly been a story that’s got under my skin and had me off hunting for more information about the real story behind Exercise Tiger, and those are my favourite sort of books, the ones that don’t stop on the last page.