'The Valley of Lost Secrets' is a heartfelt and compelling story set in Wales during the Second World War. As Waterstones Children's Book of the Month for January, it's a fine example of children's fiction that tackles the meaning of belonging, friendship and loss in times of hardship. With children plunged into lockdown now, I also can't help but draw parallels with the mass evacuation in 1939.
Jimmy and his younger brother Ronnie are evacuated to the small village of Llanbryn in a remote part of Wales. It's very different to London: a mining town with quiet but gossiping people surrounded by mountains and hills almost too much for Jimmy to understand. But when he finds a skull in the hollow of a tree, Jimmy has more questions and fears about where he is living. What does it all mean? Who can he trust? And what secrets will the skull reveal?
Lesley Parr is an incredible writer. She effortlessly transports the reader to wartime Wales with warmth, humour and compassion. I've seen other readers on Twitter state that Llanbryn feels like a home from home and I can't agree more. I'm totally with Jimmy as he explores the valleys and gets to grips with understanding the Welsh people and their lives. There is a beauty in the innocence of childhood Parr evokes here. She explores that yearning to belong, the yearning to escape but be loved as a child with tenderness and mesmerising, honest detail- all of which rings true for our current times. When Mr Thomas learns that the children won't be able to attend school for a few weeks because of the war effort he simply states: 'Another few weeks won't turn them into dunces, Gwen.' As a teacher, it's a real reminder that children have always faced struggles throughout history and learned to be resilient as a result. It's part of everyone's learning and this is a story to remind us of what matters: our connection to others, our ability to grieve and move on and be there for those who need us most.
Full of hope and yearning for connection - in people and in nature - 'The Valley of Lost Secrets' is a compelling and warm book for difficult times. Timely and timeless, it's a must-read for this winter.