Thursday, August 18, 2011

Before the Last All Clear Review and Giveaway

Most of the books I read these days are children's books.  Occasionally I read an adult history book or memoir and that is what I am highlighting today.

Before the Last All Clear
by Ray Evans
Book Guild Publishing, 2006.
Grades 5 and up
Reviewed from copy sent by the author.

During World War II, around three and a half million British children were evacuated away from possible air raids in the big cities in one of the largest social upheavals Great Britain has ever seen. One of those children was Ray Evans. This is the story of a young evacuee from Liverpool sent to live in the Welsh town of Llanelli. Separated from his mother, brothers and sisters, six-year old Ray was dispatched to a series of families who ignored, exploited and brutalised him. Pushed from pillar to post, he finally finds happiness with a family who make him so welcome that he is reluctant to leave when war ends. Set in a world of ration books, air-raid sirens and ever-present danger, this is a candid and direct account of wartime Britain as seen through the eyes of a child. (
The life experiences of ordinary people can be particularly powerful simply because they can be easier to relate to for most readers.  I love reading about Abraham Lincoln, a man I greatly admire, but I'll never know what it is like to give a speech in front of a huge crowd or live in the White House. But I can imagine the heartbreak of being separated from one's family at the tender age of 6.  I can imagine the adventuresome spirit that led a young boy to walking on the railroad tracks or fighting unkind treatment the only way he knew how.

I'll admit that the writing in this book is not the best, it doesn't flow very well.  In addition some of the flashbacks don't fit very well where they have been placed in the book.  But neither of these things is surprising when one considers that the author left school at the age of 14 and has no formal writing background.  In his own words,
It all started many years ago, back in the early sixties when my son and daughter were children.  Rather than have me read the typical story books such as the Three Bears or Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, they would always beg me to tell them stories from my evacuation days. Of course they were very young at the time so I stuck with the funny tales that made them laugh and see the entire experience pretty much as a big adventure.
My children loved the stories so much it was always me and not my wife they insisted on putting them to bed. In fact, telling those stories so many times over is the chief reason why they’ve stuck so vividly in my memory.

Then one day my daughter suggested I put the evacuation stories down on paper so they could be passed on to my grandchildren in England, those who didn’t get to hear them first hand as Kimberly did. However, expecting the stories to end up in print was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, had it not been for my wife mailing the stories off to the publishers in England a couple of years later, I’m not sure where they would have ended up – probably packed away in a box somewhere in the attic.
The story is interesting enough to make it easy to overlook the problems and gives an interesting perspective on the events surrounding what has come to be known as the Battle of Britain.  I had no idea that so much bombing took place all over the country.  Most of what I've read on the topic focuses on London.  The book conveys the ups and downs that Ray experienced as he moved from place to place, sometimes wanted, other times very much unwanted.  The experiences he shares are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and sometimes infuriating.  For someone who works with children as I do, I found the treatment Ray sometimes received troubling.  Unfortunately, all to many children today are treated in a similar manner.

Overall, I found the book well worth reading and recommend it to those who like reading about history, especially from the viewpoint of a child. For more information please visit Ray's website:

The author has provided a book for a giveaway.  To enter either leave a comment or email me at hg195 at yahoo dot com. I will draw a winner from all entries received by September 15th. Thanks for visiting.

1 comment:

  1. Ooh! This does sound good. There have been several YA novels about children avacuated during the war, but I haven't read any memoirs! I try to get my boys who love reading about WWII to branch out into different facets of the war, so this would be interesting.


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