When Joe, Scarlett and their dog Pippy come aboard the mysterious luminous train that has appeared, out of nowhere, in the middle of the park, they are not sure where it will take them. They certainly do not expect to go back in time, but soon find themselves amidst an air raid in 1941 London. It soon becomes clear that the train has somehow led them there to save a boy, Alfie, from being killed whilst saving his deaf grandmother. But how can they convince Alfie he needs help? And will they manage to alter the past and save Alfie?
This short novel from Sophie McKenzie is perfect for newly independent readers. It has great pace, and although it is very short, manages to be quite action-packed. It starts off as rather mysterious, with a train coming out of nowhere but soon turns into a real race-against-time type of story which had me at the edge of my seat, slightly anxious about how on earth the young characters were going to get out alive!
As well as being a roller coaster-ride sort of adventure, the story brings 1941 London to life very vividly and successfully highlights the dangers of living through the London Blitz. I think this is the great strength of this novel because actually, I think children will learn quite a bit while reading it, without even noticing probably. It goes into quite a lot of detail as to what life was like at the time, and it is written in a way that young readers will find interesting. It doesn’t shy away from the realities either: casualties, lack of food and other essentials, separation from parents. This is no romanticised war fiction; it feels very real. The language used is clear and well pitched at its targeted audience.
This is a gripping story which will be a good first exposure to historical fiction (with the ghost train twist in this case!). There is a real spirit of the every day hero amongst the young characters and I found them to be quite inspiring in their own way. I hope young readers will find themselves inspired by them too.