By: Emma Kennedy
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Review by: Janice M. Ladendorf
Review Date: Feb. 15, 2017
This heartwarming story is set in a Welsh coal mining town in 1944. It is a company town where most of the men work in the local coal mine. The protagonist is a bright eleven-year-old boy whose father and older brothers are miners. His character is based on the author's father. Most of the men in this town die young or are permanently disabled from mine accidents or diseased lungs. They say the coal they bring out is earned with their blood.
Their community is a close one with a moral code followed by all who live there. Wives and mothers work hard with none of the facilities we take for granted today, but they can dominate their families and no man dares argue with them. War rationing has already done much to worsen the already impoverished lives of these people.
The hero, Anthony or Ant, is part of the Scott Street gang. They play together, compete with each other, and fight other boys. All of them have to wear hand-me-down clothes and Ant's rubber boots are two sizes too big for him. When a banana comes to town, everyone runs to see what it is, but nobody knows how to eat it. The next excitement is the news American troops are coming to train on their mountains.
Ant's gang likes to climb up the slope of the mountain above their home to a place where they can watch bombers fly in and out of the nearby RAF base. One day a plane crashes near them and they help rescue a Polish prisoner of war who is brought to Ant's home. The next day the boys salvage everything they can find from the crash site and bring it to their hideout on the mountain. Ant's mother nurses the soldier and he soon becomes part of the family. When Ant's father is disabled, he helps out with funds passed onto him by an RAF officer.
The boys discover someone has been stealing food from their hideout and messing around with their salvaged treasures. They couldn't figure out who had discovered it; then the RAF discovers there should have been one more body at the crash site. The horrified town realizes there must be a German airman hiding out on their mountain. Fear-based hatred and anger run through the town like wildfire. When the man is caught, Ant becomes a hero when he prevents the German officer from stealing a plane from the RAF base.
After Ant's father dies, he no longer wants to be a miner. He takes the eleven plus exam, does very well, and wins a scholarship to a Grammar School. He will be required to wear the school uniform and is given a new set of clothes and a pair of shoes, all of which fit him well. He can hardly believe how fortunate he is.
Ant's many adventures realistically evoke both the beautiful physical setting and the close community life of this impoverished town. The horrors of war are brought home to Ant and the town by the stories of the Polish and German soldiers. Ant figures out they are both people just like those from his town who are serving in the British army.
Quill says: An exciting story with an unusual setting. Well worth reading.