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A Song for Will and The Lost Gardeners of Heligan

Written by Hilary Robinson

Illustrated by Martin Impey

Featured Books for 7+ readers Featured Books for 9+ readers Historical Fiction

LoveReading View on A Song for Will and The Lost Gardeners of Heligan

One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | May 2017 Book of the Month |

This deeply moving story perfectly conveys the devastating impact of the First World War both on those who took part and those they left behind. Though the story is fiction, many of those who feature were real people, gardeners at what became known after their deaths as the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The story is narrated by Alfie, who is too young to sign up, and conveyed through his letters to and from the young men who worked alongside him in the gardens and who joined the forces. The letters describe simply but vividly the realities of life at home and at the front, optimism and enthusiasm giving way to shock and grief. We particularly feel for Will who was so kind and gentle, and whose absence is mourned by animal as well as human friends. Beautifully told and illustrated, this is a book for children and adults to treasure.  Line of Fire by Barroux gives another first-hand account of the war in words and pictures.  

Andrea Reece

Other Info

In 2013 the Imperial War Museum recognised Heligan's Thunderbox Room as a 'Living Memorial' to 'The Gardeners of Heligan House'. A Song for Will is published in partnership with The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

A Song for Will and The Lost Gardeners of Heligan Synopsis

When the First World War is declared on 4th August 1914, errand boy, Alfie, is disappointed that he is too young to sign up. But his frustration turns to despair as he begins to understand the brutal reality of battle.During the four year conflict, Alfie's exchange of letters with Heligan stone mason, Fred Paynter, and the visits home of gardener, William Guy, paint a poignant picture of life at the front.

Reading them in a peaceful corner of England, the sanctuary of Heligan, Alfie realises just how different his life could have been. Can Fred and Will survive the horrors of the Somme offensive in 1916? And what shocking news might Alfie receive about other battles?

Drawing on facts from the historical records of The Lost Gardens of Heligan, 'A Song For Will' is a beautiful story of longing, loss and discovery.

Many of the characters featured in the story including, Fred Paynter and William Guy are based on real people. Many of the landmarks at Heligan itself also feature in the story including The Sun-Dial Garden, The Pineapple Pit, The Melon Yard, the Peach House, Flora’s Green, The Dove Tree and the Italian Garden.

Drawing on archives and historical records of The Lost Gardens of Heligan, as well as actual military archives, A Song for Will is a beautiful story of longing, loss, discovery and ultimately, of hope.  
A special section at the back of the book pays homage to the nine members of the outdoor staff who didn’t return, and to the four that did.

A Song for Will and The Lost Gardeners of Heligan Reader Reviews

Some of our Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel were lucky enough to read and review another title from the successful Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey partnership, Flo of the Somme. You can read their full reviews by clicking here.

  • Cassandra Butler, age 6 - 'I really liked this story as it shows how brave the animals were during the war.'
  • Cassandra’s Mum - 'This book is just amazing as it gives a different perspective on the war that is appropriate for younger children.  My daughter loved the bit where Flo gets home safely.'
  • Miranda and Sabina Beinart-Smith, age 9 and 7 - 'We really liked this book because it had really pretty and detailed illustrations and a beautiful, moving story to go with it.'
  • Romilly Dally-Fitzsimons, age 8 - 'This is a beautiful book that tells the story of a dog called Flo during the First World War.'
  • Isabel, age 8 - 'Lovely pictures and an interesting subject.'
  • James McNichol, age 5 - 'A truly wonderful children's book...The rhythmical poetry was brilliant and the illustrations are just fabulous.'
  • Hermione Chaytors, age 6 - 'Flo is incredible! I loved the rhyming of the words but most of all I loved Flo because she was such a good helper and she looks just like my Border Collie dog who is called Flossie!'
  • Ava Townsend, age 5 - 'This story is about a special dog called Flo. The book has amazing pictures which tell lots of separate stories.'
  • Robert Anderson, age 5 and his mum - 'A wonderful, thoughtful picture book which sensitively introduces the subject of the Great War.'
  • Phoenix, age 7 - 'Flo Of The Somme is an AMAZING poem book with beautiful illustration throughout.'
  • Ellie Limbert, age 5 - 'I enjoyed it and would recommend it to my friends. I also think it would be good to talk about and read in school.'

A Song for Will and The Lost Gardeners of Heligan Press Reviews

Praise for Where The Poppies Now Grow

“... a poignant yet hopeful story of how friendship endures the hardest of times and provides an accessible route into considering the First World War.”  Carolyn Swain - The English Association

“...children will never look at poppies in the same way again.” Paul Reed - Military Historian

“...a powerful and beautifully written poem, superbly illustrated, one which touches our hearts.” Gervase Phinn - Bestselling Author

“...a book that reflects the lasting importance of both friendship and place and how they can help to heal the tragedy of war.” Julia Eccleshare MBE - Lovereading 4 kids

Praise For The Christmas Truce

“Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey beautifully weave poetry and illustration to retell the poignant story of The Christmas Truce.” Seven Stories - National Centre for Children’s Books

“...splendidly retold and beautifully illustrated.” Robin Schäfer - Military Historian (Germany)

“This truly is a brilliant book with such a positive message of peace emerging from such a terrible and tragic conflict.”

“...‘The Christmas Truce’ is a delightful rhyme about the First World War...Both books highlight the human qualities that all people share, despite the tragedy and destruction associated with combat.”  The Western Front Association

If you loved this, you might like these...

A Christmas in Time
After the War From Auschwitz to Ambleside
Bombs and Blackberries A World War Two Play
Forged in Steel

All versions of this book

ISBN: 9780957124530
Publication date: 01/04/2017
Publisher: Strauss House Productions
Format: Hardback

Book Information

ISBN: 9780957124530
Publication date: 1st April 2017
Author: Hilary Robinson
Illustrator: Martin Impey
Publisher: Strauss House Productions
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 64 pages
Suitable for: 7+ readers, 9+ readers
Genres: Historical Fiction

About Hilary Robinson

Hilary Robinson is an award winning radio producer and author of over 50 picture books. Awards include the 2016 Historical Young Quills Award for ‘Flo of the Somme.’ Radio credits include Private Peaceful for BBC Radio 2 and her series for Barry Humphries Forgotten Musical Masterpieces was listed as one of the top 30 artistic triumphs of 2016 by the Telegraph. Extracts from her book 'A Song For Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan' were read on BBC Radio 4. Follow her on Instagram here. Read a Q&A with the author here.

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