A new book from Tom Palmer, one of our most talented writers of children's historical fiction, is always something to relish. We are especially thrilled that, in the run up to the publication of his brilliant new novel, Angel of Grasmere, Tom is joining LR4K as our Guest Editor. 

Amy McKay, our editorial expert, believes Angel of Grasmere is "sure to become a firm favourite, this is a skilful and engrossing tale of wartime rural life. The third in Palmer’s much loved World War Two Lakeland series, and possibly the best yet. Full of heart, wisdom and kindness, this is a book that young readers will adore. Published by Barrington Stoke, the accessible format with cream pages and dyslexia-friendly font opens up Tarn’s world to struggling and non-traditional readers. Whilst the powerful storytelling never condescends, instead offering a full and heartfelt story alive with vibrant characters."

Tom is the author of over sixty children’s books including the 6 award-winning WWII fiction titles published by Barrington Stoke, and the sporty series Football Academy, Foul Play, The Squad and Rugby Academy

Tom is a passionate advocate for the importance of reading for pleasure and in 2019 was awarded the National Literacy Trust's Ruth Rendell Award in recognition of his significant contribution to literacy work in the UK. A firm favourite with teachers and librarians, Tom's fiction is a popular choice for a classroom read where his stories bring history vividly to life.

We are delighted to welcome multi-award winning Tom Palmer as our Guest Editor for May.

Hello, I am Tom.

I am a children’s author. And I am more than happy to be this month’s guest editor for LoveReading4Kids, one of the great gateways for children looking to find a great read. (If you read to the end of this introduction, you’ll see why I am so happy to be asked to do this.)

Anyway… welcome! Here, you will find an interview with me about my new book, Angel of Grasmere. Also, you’ll learn what my Book of the Month is, and you’ll get to peruse a list of my five favourite children’s books of all time.

I love children’s books now that I am an adult. But when I was a child I didn’t like reading any sort of books. I didn’t know what was out there and if it was any good. If only there had been a website like this then. If only there had been websites…

That’s why I am proud to be guest editor of LoveReading4Kids. Very proud.

I hope it helps you find your next read. And – for the record and to give them the praise they deserve – the other great gateway, conduit or whatever metaphor you want to use for children finding books to read is LIBRARIANS. But you knew that.

Thanks and happy reading.

Tom Palmer

Q. Angel of Grasmere demonstrates the huge impact war has on the lives of young people with Tarn, Peter and Eric at the centre of the book losing their dreams and innocence. What do you hope young readers will learn from this story?

A. Definitely to understand our past. Also, to understand the impact wars in the past have had on civilians as well as the combatants. Especially children. But – in writing and reading about wars long ago – we can’t ignore the wars going on right now and the terrible impact they have on children. I like to think that if we read about the impact of war in the past, it will help us to think about it more deeply and we’re more likely to try to do something to help. Now.

Q. The book has hard-hitting depictions of PTSD as Joss is haunted by his memories, and feelings of guilt. We have to be grateful that so much more is understood about the effects of 'shellshock' now but how important is it that children understand what previous generations experienced?

A. Very important. I had older family members in my family who had been involved in WW2. None spoke about it. Not to me. And yet I sat there in their front rooms watching films like The Dambusters and Escape to Victory and reading comics like Combat thinking war was exciting and fun. What were they thinking as they watched me do that?

And then there is the broader issue of PTSD in civilians. I have family from Liverpool. They never spoke about the city’s brutal bombing or even the fear of that bombing. I sometimes go into schools and am warned – or not warned, and find out on the job – that there are children there who have been exposed to war in all sorts of ways.

From Syria, Ukraine, Palestine. The more we know about the impact of war on everyone, the kinder we can be to them. I’ll never forget a boy in a class I was talking to about the bombing of Arnhem in Resist. He sort of cramped when I mentioned bombs the first time, then put his hands over his ears the next time I mentioned it. I changed what I was doing. God knows what he was re-living. I spoke to the teacher about it afterwards and the school had no idea about his story.

Q. The book is also filled with hope, with the benevolent presence of the angel giving the villagers a sense that something, or somebody, otherworldly is looking after them. Did you ever consider not revealing the identity of the angel?

A. That’s an interesting idea. I like it. But – in the end – I wanted to bring the two stories in the book together. One is about a mysterious figure carrying out acts of kindness. The other is about a girl who is grieving for her dead brother. I won’t say any more, so as not to give the ending away, but I couldn’t resist the emotional impact of a happy ending for once. Having denied my characters unadulterated happy endings in After the War and Resist I needed one in this book.

Q. What are the biggest rewards, and the biggest challenges, of writing historical fiction for young readers?

A. I think the biggest challenge is making sure you stick 100% to primary sources, so it is historically accurate. In being utterly authentic it is difficult to give the plot and characters the twists and turns you need to make the story fast-paced and compelling. I overcome that by doing so much research I find the true stories that will fit. You end up using only 5% of your research, but it is worth it.

And the biggest reward is the email from a parent that arrives at 10 p.m. about how their child hated reading, but they just caught them reading after their bedtime because, for the first time, they wanted to read a book to the end. And it was one of mine. That’s a great feeling. The best.

Q. Do you feel a particular responsibility to them when writing about events such as the Holocaust?

A. Yes. I write them for the children, of course. But I also write them knowing that – in the case of After the War – it would be read by Holocaust survivors, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and I owe it to them to tell the story of their family based on primary source testimony. After the War was based 100% on testimony. And then I checked it with the families and Holocaust educators. Imagine if I wrote a story about the Holocaust and one of the survivors felt like I had misrepresented what really happened.

Q. Do you have plans for another book based in Cumbria? You reference the lost village of Mardale in Angel of Grasmere which would be ripe for a reimagining!

A. There is one idea in my head. But not to do with the reservoirs. Mardale is a good idea. Though I am so in awe of Sarah Hall’s Haweswater as a book, I would struggle to dare to try. Have you read it? It is off the scale. (No but I need to! - an awesome debut that won 2003 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel, a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award, and the Lakeland Book of the Year prize - ed)

How do you do your research? Did you use local resources? And what’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered?

A. I go for every source I can. With Angel of Grasmere I read four years of the Westmorland Gazette 1938-1942 on the microfiche in Kendal Library, talked to locals who lived in the Grasmere area during the war and had memories, read books, watched films, used historical archives and walked and walked the fells.

I worked with Grasmere Primary school too. A group of children – along with teachers and parents – helped me plan, write and edit the book. Their knowledge and feel for Grasmere has been so important. I wanted it to feel authentic to them. And for them to have a stake in it. The process was a lot of fun.

The most surprising thing I discovered is that there are still a lot of WW2 RAF plane wrecks – or parts of – high on the fells. Or scars in the land, rocks blackened by fire where planes crashed. There are memorials too. I have featured such an event at the end of Angel of Grasmere.

Q. You’ve said that reading about football turned you into a reader. What advice would you give to adults wanting to instil a love of reading in children?

A. I’d suggest what my mum did for me. My mum knew I struggled with books. Of any length. She also knew my big hobby was football. So she got me reading comics, magazines, newspapers and Ceefax (like the internet, but primitive) then books about what I cared about. Football.

She didn’t make me feel like I had to read books. It could be anything. There was no stigma attached to non-book reading, but I do remember being given a book on the Loch Ness Monster when we went to Scotland. She’d deploy books cleverly like that. She’d get me football matchday programmes and we’d arrive at Elland Road early so we could read it together. That sort of thing. I regret she never saw me become an author, but, more importantly, she did see me become a reader.

Q. Other than your own brilliant books of course, which authors do you recommend to young readers interested in historical fiction?

A. The love of my historical children’s fiction life is Rosemary Sutcliff. She is so good at detail – but not at the expense of story and character – that you feel like you’re there among the Celts, the Romans and the Vikings.

More modern authors: Emma Carroll, Sufiya Ahmed, Dan Smith, Phil Earle. It’s a flourishing genre at the moment. I think that is a lot to do with schools being so solid with class reads in the classroom. That’s changed for the better in recent years, I think.

Q. One in three of all books sold is a children's book yet children's books get a fraction of the review space in the media. Why do you think this is - and what can be done?

A. I don’t know for sure. I see what you mean, but your website and all the other websites do a great job promoting children’s books. And – for me – the way parents and teachers and librarians talk about children’s books on social media is wonderful.

In 75% of schools I see an increasing awareness of new children’s books among the children and the staff. The newspaper reviews often seem to me to be mates reviewing each others’ books. With some exceptions. It’s not very democratic, whereas librarian, teacher and parents’ networks online share book reviews based on merit. Bang goes that review in the Telegraph! Oh well.

Q. What does LoveReading4Kids mean to you?

A. It’s brilliant. A huge part of what I was talking about in the answer above. Thank you for what you do. Children’s authors and our publishers really really really appreciate it.

As our Guest Editor, Tom would like to pass on these five must-read recommendations:

The Chieftain’s Daughter by Rosemary Sutcliff - A short story written in 1966 set in Bronze Age Wales. A young girl rescues a prisoner bound for human sacrifice.

Keeper by Mal Peet - This extraordinary, gripping tale pulses with the rhythms of football and the rainforest.  Teenagers will love it.

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff -  No one knows much about the new boy in the class. He seems harmless and he fits in easily. He can make a good friend. But he leaves a deadly legacy. Reprinted as The Hit.

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico - Set in the Essex marshes in the years before the Second World War, it is a touching story of how a young girl rescues a beautiful but wounded snow-goose and takes it to be healed by a reclusive and frightening local figure who lives alone in a remote lighthouse.

And Tom has chosen Top Thorn Farm, an independently published book written by Denise Clarke as his Book of the Month for April 2024.

I’d like to recommend Top Thorn Farm by Denise Clarke as my book for this month. I read it recently and was struck by how the author – a former school librarian – chose to write it because the students at her secondary school wanted books that featured farming and tractors. But there were very few books that dealt with rural communities.

How was she going to encourage them to read for pleasure? She decided to write Top Thorn Farm. To fill that gap. To represent the community she knew. Top Thorn Farm is a great read.

Jamie is about to do his GCSEs, but there’s trouble on his father’s farm. Some of it of Jamie’s making. Jamie is at a crossroads in his life. What does he do after school? He can’t just work with his dad on the farm as he wants to. The book shows his journey from being lost to finding a path for himself. Thanks to friends, family, teachers and a school librarian. I have worked in hundreds of rural schools, from Cumbria where Top Thorn Farm is set, to Norfolk and everywhere in between. I’ll be recommending this to teachers and librarians and the students as I go. Starting with this review.

Tom's website is a treasure trove of book fun and resources - and he is also very active with school visits, bookshop appearances and online events. Find out more about his in-person and online events, plus more about his books at tompalmer.co.uk

With many thanks to the brilliant Tom Palmer. You can find his WWII Historical Fiction collection published by Barrington Stoke below, plus a selection of his rugby and football themed stories.

Angel of Grasmere is available to pre-order here and is published on 9th May.