Whistling in the Dark by Shirley Hughes

Whistling in the Dark

Written by Shirley Hughes

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Julia Eccleshare's Pick of the Month, June 2015 Best-selling Shirley Hughes brings alive how it felt to be growing up in Liverpool during the Second World War. In a gripping and touching story which draws on her own memories of growing up at that time, Shirley Hughes sets a vivid scene of blackouts, rationing – especially of nylons which was a great hardship for the girls and all against the permanently lurking dread that something terrible is about to happen. But she also brings alive her much life was the same in terms of friendships and adventures as Joan and her best friend Doreen enjoy going to school, seeing off the class bully and going to the cinema. ~ Julia Eccleshare


Julia Eccleshare's Picks of the Month for June 2015

It's a Groovy World, Alfredo by Sean Taylor

The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army by Michael Foreman

Whistling in the Dark by Shirley Hughes

The King's Shadow by Philip Womack


Whistling in the Dark by Shirley Hughes

Liverpool, 1940: thirteen-year-old Joan's home is under threat from the Nazi's terrifying nightly air-raids. It is not an easy time to be a teenager, especially with the sweet rationing, strict curfews and blackouts. Joan and best friend Doreen love going to the cinema until the bombings intensify and then even that becomes too dangerous, especially when an army deserter is found lurking near their home. Who is he and why does he think Joan can help him? As the Blitz worsens, Joan and her friends make a discovery that will tear the whole community apart...


Her second wartime novel, set in the strict curfews and blackouts of the Liverpool Blitz. Hero on a Bicycle was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award. Fiona Noble The Bookseller -- Fiona Noble The Bookseller This may be another World War II story, but is well-written and well worth reading. -- The Bookseller The Bookseller I agree wholeheartedly with all of the quotes and commendations on the book jacket, this IS a wonderful book from 'one of our greatest writers and illustrators'. Shirley Hughes 'handles emotion without sentimentality

! -- Catherine Purcell Reading Zone Hughes brings the period to life as she weaves an entertaining and touching story around the small, every day preoccupations and the all-pervasive fears of the war. The Guardian In a story packed with mystery, danger, family and friendship, Hughes also pays tribute to the resilience of those left to keep Britain afloat on the home front and the men of the Merchant Navy who risked their lives to bring food and vital supplies across the icy U-boat infested Atlantic and saved the nation from starvation and defeat. Lancashire Evening Post The book has an old-fashioned feel, but this does not detract in any way from its charm and warmth. Shirley Hughes has drawn on her own memories of a wartime childhood, and this gives the story a satisfying depth. The realities of war are dealt with sensitively. There is no overt horror, but Hughes does not sugar-coat what happened in Liverpool in the early years of the war. For those who thought the Blitz only took place in London, this is a sobering reminder that this was not the case [...] Highly recommended. -- Pat Walsh Historical Novel Society August Review Hughes brings alive the atmosphere of the time; what it felt like for a 13-year-old and her family to experience Luffwaffe bombings, and food and clothes shortages [...] An interesting and emotional adventure into the past. Inis Reading Guide This is a gentle and innocent insight into the home front during WWII, particularly suitable for older KS2 and younger KS3 readers. The effects of the war on day-to-day life are well-documented without you feeling like you are reading a history book, and there are also some interesting moral questions young readers might enjoy probing such as using the black market. The School Librarian This is a wonderfully authentic portrayal of life during the Second World War. Beautifully illustrated, Shirley Hughes paints a thoroughly believable portrait of family life in the 1940s. Family, friendship and trust are all examined, as well as sadness, trauma and loss. Highly recommended. Carousel

About the Author

Shirley Hughes

Winner of the Book Trust Lifetime Achievement Award 2015. Shirley Hughes was born and grew up in West Kirby, near Liverpool. She studied at Liverpool Art School and at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, before embarking on a career as a freelance illustrator. At first she worked as an interpretive illustrator, but she began to write and design her own picture books when her children were very young. Her first book, Lucy and Tom's Day, was published in 1960. Now living in London's Notting Hill, Shirley Hughes has illustrated over two hundred children's books and is renowned as a champion of children's literature.

She has been the recipient of the Other Award, the Kate Greenaway Medal and the prestigious Eleanor Farjeon Award. She was shortlisted for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, which rewards the best in contemporary children's and young adult literature from all over the world, in 2010.

Shirley Hughes won the first ever Book Trust Lifetime Achievement Award for her outstanding contribution to children's literature.

Book Trust CEO, Diana Gerald, says: ‘Book Trust is thrilled that our first ever Lifetime Achievement Award goes to someone whose remarkable, multi-talented contribution to children's fiction spans several generations and continues to this day. Her characters are imprinted on the memories of two or three generations, a recognition of their enduring charm. This evergreen storytelling is something we particularly want to celebrate with this award. ‘Significantly, Shirley continues to innovate and create, providing young children with a love of reading that we know will give them a great start in life. We often hear about ‘national treasures’, but Shirley Hughes is up there with the best.’

Shirley Hughes, says: ’Being chosen for the Booktrust Lifetime Achievement Award is a tremendous honour which I appreciate more than I can say. I have derived so much fulfilment from my long career, first as an illustrator of other artists’ stories and then creating my own. Best of all has been perennially encountering very young children who are learning to look with such rapt pleasure and follow a story visually long before they are able to read.’

In her own words: As a child

I grew up in a quiet seaside town near Liverpool, in the days when there was no television, only radio, which we listened to a lot. My older sisters and I messed about in the back garden, pored over comics and surveyed the world from the flat garage roof. There were acres of time to be filled in then. We combatted boredom by dressing up and acting out plays to any audience we could press into service (including the cats), making up fantasy worlds and, of course, drawing pictures. There was a good supply of books. Most inspiring were wonderful illustrated classics, with colour plates by artists like Arthur Rackham and Will Heath Robinson. Later, the cinema was a terrific source of glamour and narrative, as were the Victorian paintings in the Walker Arts Gallery, Liverpool. I am pretty sure that having a lot of time to read, to dream or simply mooch about, played a major part in my becoming an author/illustrator.

As an adult

When our quiet, well-conducted suburban childhood was rudely interrupted by World War II, the grown-ups, as luck would have it, were far too absorbed in the war effort to bother much about our academic, social and cultural achievements. With me, drawing stuck. I just went on doing it. I wrote too, but kept that secret. I had a good high-school education, but I got out as soon as I could and went to Liverpool Art School to study costume design, and later, at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford. This theatrical impulse turned into the desire to illustrate stories (another kind of theatre). I got the sketchbook habit, which has stayed with me always. You hang around, observing and drawing real people (especially, in my case, children), then you go back to the drawing board and make it all up. The characters in my stories are not my own children at that age, or anyone else's, but inspired by a combination of both.

As an artist

When I first started doing the rounds with a folio, way back in the1950s, I got plenty of work illustrating other people's books, mostly in black and white line. It was an excellent apprenticeship. I was married with two small children when I tried my first picture book, Lucy and Tom's Day, an unassuming little book about everyday life. I was very tentative about using colour then. It took a long time to acquire the expansive confidence you need to let go and let it flow across the page. Two big breaks for me were Dogger, which was my first book to be widely published abroad, and being asked by Walker Books to do a series for very young children, which ended up, via The Nursery Collection, as Olly and Me. These books gave me an opportunity to use a very simple, first-person text, in a kind of rhythmical verse form. Recently, I have launched into picture books for older children with more sophisticated themes and artwork. I can't bear hearing grown-ups telling children they can't have picture books any more as they can read! Why remove such a great narrative pleasure?

Things you didn't know about Shirley Hughes

1. At school, I was always the last to be picked for the hockey team.

2. I'm told I was an easy-going baby, but it didn't last.

3. I like birds, but would hate one to come near me.

4. I like ironing.

5. I never travel by underground.

6. I like travelling by bus, especially London buses.

7. Once on Australian TV, I had to hide in a Wendy house then leap out and hug a huge bear.

8. I save elastic bands, paper clips and pieces of string that I find lying about.

9. I jazz about a lot when washing up.

10. I fantasize about having a house by the sea.

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Book Info


240 pages
Interest Age: From 9


Shirley Hughes
More books by Shirley Hughes

Author's Website



Walker Books Ltd

Publication date

4th June 2015




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