The Valley of Lost Secrets

Author: Lesley Parr Release Date: 01.01.2021 Publisher: Bloomsbury

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Other books to use when studying WW2…

September 1939

When Jimmy is evacuated to a small village in Wales, It couldn’t be more different from London. Green, quiet and full of strangers, he instantly feels out of place.

But then he finds a skull hidden in a tree, and suddenly the valley is more frightening than the war. Who can Jimmy trust? His brother is too little; his best friend has changed.

Finding an ally in someone he never expects, they set out together to uncover the secrets that lie with the skull. What they discover will change Jimmy – and the village – forever.

You know that a story is good when you’re flipping the last page back and forth, desperately hoping for another chapter to appear!

If you haven’t heard about this book, then which rock have you been hiding under? It has been all over the edutwittersphere – smothered in rave reviews from teachers and fellow authors alike. And, rightly so!

I’ve always loved history, especially WW2 as so many of my family members served during it. I grew up listening to my grandparents tales of their youth, cuddling up next to them on the sofa, soaking up every word. Both of my grandads were evacuated to the countryside during the second world war, and had very different experiences. Grandad James was the rebellious type, and after ignoring several warnings to not jump in the local canals, he was sent back home to his parents in Manchester. Grandad Frank, however, struggled to settle into his new ‘temporary’ home. He was very close to his mum and brother, so found being away from them both quite distressing – much like the main character, Jimmy, in Lesley Parr’s cracker of a novel. In fact, Jimmy reminded me a lot of my Grandad Frank, who is sadly no longer with us, and so reading ‘The Valley of Lost Secrets’ felt like a warm hug , taking me back to those treasured story-telling times.

Themes:

This book was a real masterclass in middle grade storytelling. You can tell that Lesley Parr used to be an UKS2 teacher, because The Valley of Lost Secrets contains all the themes that we fellow educators want our children to be reading about. It has a main character who’s own fear stops him from moving forwards. (I’m sure we’ve all got pupils who will relate to this!) It highlights the fact that a family doesn’t need to be blood-related for them to become a tight, loving unit. It shows how real friendships can be found with the people you would least expect to connect with. And, it depicts beautifully why we should always choose kindness, because everybody has their own demons that they are trying to overcome. Yes, this book is set during WW2. Yes it is about evacuating to the countryside. However, if you’re just looking for air-raids and soldiers, or a tick list of WW2 buzz words, then this isn’t the one for you. Because this story is a whole lot more than that. This story has heart.

Characters:

I love how each character, however seminal they are to the story, provides a talking point for discussions with the children.

  • Jimmy – the stubborn lead character, who loves his sibling more than anything, but out of loyalty to his father, hates the ease in which he has slotted into his new life. His journey shows us how fear of the new can hold us back and blind us from the happiness in front of us.
  • Ronnie – Jimmy’s brother. He shows us what can be achieved when we open ourselves up to new experiences.
  • Mrs Thomas – Shunned by the village because of her husband, ‘Aunty Gwen’, depicts the kindness several families showed during the war whilst facing their own adversities.
  • Mr Thomas – The mysterious element of the plot centres around this character and his journey to overcoming the internal tornado of guilt and grief.
  • Duff – Jimmy’s ‘best mate’. He shows us how fickle friendships can be when thrown into unfamiliar territory.
  • And finally, my favourite character of all, Florence – a young girl who finds true happiness in realising her own self-worth. She is the classic example of ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ in literary form. I’m putting it out there Lesley Parr, let’s give the readers what they want – the story of Florence!

How I would use this book in school:

This book is perfectly suited to supporting the year 6 curriculum. There are several opportunities to use it across an array of subjects. Here’s just a few examples:

  • Writing opportunities: Without a doubt, I’ll be using this book to inspire creative writing. One of the first activities I would do is to create setting descriptions of both the Welsh village and a London street. This would be a fantastic way of introducing positive and negative intent when creating atmosphere in their writing. I’ll also be setting my children the task of writing two diary entries -one from the viewpoint of Jimmy, and the other from Florence – describing their first day in the village. Again, this allows for positive and negative intent to become a focus, as well as showing a deliberate change of tone from different character perspectives – perfect for the greater depth children.
  • Guided Reading: Where to start with the guided reading opportunities! There’s just too many! This story has so many points for children to stop and infer meaning, which is just what a year 6 class needs. To start with, I’ll be creating character profiles, that will be added to as the story develops. This will help to support those 3-mark SATs questions that rely on the children recognising personality traits and linking them to actions. It’s also a great resource to show the children each character’s journey, allowing them to compare what they were like at the start and end. After finishing the novel, I’ll be asking my children to create a story map, identifying settings for pivotal points of the story. This allows them to not only recall what they have read, but helps to support summarising and ordering key events. Obviously, there are plenty of tier 3 words throughout to provide opportunities to teach word meaning, but with the inclusion of Welsh words, this is perfect for honing the children’s deduction skills.
  • History: This book is a great introduction to WW2 and the experiences of evacuees. I’ll be using it as a research basis to compare the differences between the Welsh countryside and London. Why were children evacuated here? What was it about the city that was so dangerous?
  • Geography: Obviously, we would be locating which countries were involved in the war, and how territories changed over the course of it. This story also opens up the opportunity to research where in the world children were evacuated to. How were they evacuated? How long did it take? How long were they away for?
  • PSHE: The Valley of Lost Secrets offers a plethora of opportunities to teach and discuss empathy. One thing I will definitely be looking at is looking at how a child during the war may have felt back then and comparing it with child refugees now.

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