Michael Morpurgo is a somewhat prolific English writer of childrens books. He doesn't seem to be afraid of any topic, his breadth is vast, nor any age group, as he has written picture books, early readers, junior novels and everything all the way up to complex books for adolescents and adventurous adults. He discovered his talent and aptitude for storytelling during his years as a primary school teacher in Kent as a young man. He was instrumental in setting up the office of the Children's Laureate in Britain, and then became the third author to hold that office from 2003-2005.
The first section of each chapter, which may only be a paragraph or two tells us of this night. The rest of the chapter fills in the wonderful backstory of Tommo growing up with his brothers Charlie and Big Joe in rural England at the start of the twentieth century. Their father dies in a logging accident at the very start of the story. Tommo and his brothers are then either left essentially to their own devices, as their mother must go to work full time (and didn't children have a lot more freedom to roam and play back then?) until they come under the watchful and disapproving eye of Grandma Wolf. Big Joe is a simple, but happy lad, brain damaged after a bout of neonatal meningitis in the pre-antibiotic era, fond of singing Oranges and Lemons, and a lover of all creatures great and small. Charlie is the big older brother, who keeps an eye out for Tommo, and who eventually wins the girl that Tommo too loves.
Gradually the two story lines converge to bring us to that fateful night where Tommo is keeping watch. The last 20-30 pages or so is devastatingly sad. I read it with tears streaming down my face- and this was my second read of this book, I initially read it a few years ago. I loved it both times. Simply written. A great structure that naturally builds suspense and culminates in a powerful climax.
(Re)read as part of my 1001 quest