If you are already a Tom Palmer fan, you will know to expect from After the War – a touching, concisely told yet never dumbed-down, story of childhood during wartime. If you are new to his books, then prepare to be astounded. Tom Palmer has a rare talent for making the truth of the past accessible to children without watering down the horrific facts or emotional impact, a skill already demonstrated in his previous books, Armistice Runner, D-Day Dog and Over the Line, but in its best evidence yet here.
After the War opens with a foreword explaining the factual basis to this story of the ‘Windermere boys’, 300 refugee children who were temporarily relocated to Cumbria at the end of WWII after being rescued from concentration camps. This is hugely helpful in settling the reader into what to expect of the story ahead and flagging up the timely theme of treatment of refugees.
The story begins in the summer of 1945, as a plane descends into the Yorkshire hills, carrying Jewish child survivors of the Holocaust. Yossi, 15, is traumatized, anxious, untrusting, always alert to danger. Through flashbacks, we gradually learn Yossi’s story, from the day war suddenly arrived in his sleepy Polish village in the form of a German bomber, through being interned in a Jewish ghetto and being forced to work in a clothing factory to his eventual destination, the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. Balancing between the flashbacks to the horrors of the past and the hope of the future is the present, where the boys gradually settle into Yorkshire life, a place where they learn food is not scarce, uniformed men can have kind eyes, and boys can ride bicycles again.
With Tom’s trademark very short and super-readable chapters, the direct text lets the story shine through straight and true, without ever being overly simplistic in either intent or vocabulary. After the War would make a fantastic class reader for Year 5/6, although I doubt any teacher could make it through without a wobble in their voice at least once a chapter. I spent the majority of the book with a lump in my throat, either at the things that children had been through or at the small touches of kindness shown to them by the local community, which gradually help them to open up to the world again.
The WWII genre is a crowded market, but After the War elbows its way to the front as a stunning reflection on the impact of war, perfectly pitched for a UKS2 audience.
Nominated for “Favourite Books of 2020” by: Richard Simpson (Year 6 Teacher)
Richard says, “Brilliantly written book about an oft-forgotten and not addressed aspect of the war…what happened to those who survived. Powerfully but sensitively dealt with, with moments that will stay with you long after reading it.”