Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Kingdom by the Sea

Kingdom by the Sea

Robert Westall
For ages 12 and up
HarperCollins Children's Books (UK), 2009   ISBN: 978-0007301416

One night Harry Baguely's life is turned completely upside down when a German bomb falls on his house. After the air raid warning goes off, he is the first one to get to the shelter in the garden and he is there when the bomb hits. When he comes to, the house is on fire and Harry knows that his Mum, Dad, and little sister are all dead. The one thing, perhaps the only thing, that Harry is sure of is that he does not want to be forced to go and live with his aunt. This being the case, there is nothing left for him to do but to gather up what he can and to move on. Harry sets off for the beach and he isn't there long before he meets a dog, another refugee from the bombing who is alone in the world.

Together Harry and the dog, who is called Don, find places to sleep and food to eat. Sometimes they meet with kindness, and sometimes they meet people who are downright horrible. One thing Harry is sure of is that he has to keep on moving. If he stays in one place too long the police might get suspicious and begin to ask questions.

Harry meets an old man who has been living on a beach for years, and the old man shows Harry how to survive. Harry learns how to gather sea coal and how to cook fish on an open fire. He knows the ways of the tides, and when he finds an old bunker he makes himself at home there. He makes friends with a group of artillerymen who live in a nearby town. Unfortunately, one of the men in the unit develops an unhealthy interest in Harry and Harry is forced to move on once more.

Up the coast Harry goes towards the holy island of Lindisfarne. Perhaps there he will find the refuge he seeks. Perhaps there he and Don will be safe at last like all those pilgrims who went to the island in the past.

In this beautifully written, gripping, and sometimes painful story, we follow Harry's journey and watch as he makes friends, as he learns to take care of himself and Don, as he matures, and as he comes to accept that he cannot live the vagabond life forever. Some readers will find the startling ending somewhat disappointing, but it does leaves things open, and one could even say that there is hope there, though that hope does lie in the future.

This story will give readers an all together unique picture of one boy's war experience, and it will show them how much the experiences packed into just a few short months can change a person's view of the world. Harry Bagley goes from being a city boy, to being a young person who grows to love open spaces, animals, and his own "kingdom by the sea."