When then 9 year old Little Miss C started reading Jacqueline Wilson’s Wave Me Goodbye the plan was that I would read along with her. That didn’t exactly go to plan. Firstly, she has far more free time to read in than I do, and secondly, when I stated reading it I just found it all far too emotional! Let me explain.
Starting in September 1939, at the start of World War 2, Wave Me Goodbye tells the story of ten year old Shirley Louise Smith who is about to be evacuated out of London along with thousands of other children. But Shirley’s mother doesn’t initially tell her what is happening. Instead Shirley is told that they are going away on a “little holiday” together.
When I started reading the book it was just days after probably one of my lowest days of lockdown. The day on which my children had finished school before they closed, and on what ended up being my son’s last proper day at his Infant School. That morning I had been allowed in with my Governor Hat on to video their final class assembly for all the other parents. They had been learning about World War 2 and were supposed to be telling the rest of the school and their parents about everything they had learnt, including what it was like for children to be evacuated and to have had to carry gas masks around with them. At a time of such uncertainty and with everything being compared to war time I simply couldn’t cope with reading a book set at the time.
A few months later though and life has moved on a bit and doesn’t feel quite so scary and war like any more. I sat down and started again with Wave Me Goodbye and I’m so glad I did.
It’s a lovely story about what it must have been like for a young girl to leave her mother and everything she knew at home behind and be moved to a totally different part of the country.
When they arrive in the countryside, Shirley is one of the last children to billeted and ends up in a slightly strange situation with two women who for various reasons are set apart from many others in the village. She’s not there alone though. Two boys from her school, lanky Kevin and baby-faced Archie, are also placed at the mysterious Red House.
Over time Shirley starts to uncover some of the house and its occupants’ secrets. The book culminates in what I can only describe as a very grown up plot-twist that I certainly didn’t see coming at all.
For children learning about the Second World War and the evacuation of children to the countryside Wave Me Goodbye is a wonderful way of immersing them in what it must have been like to have been evacuated as a child. There are several points in the story that I can see would be perfect for initiating discussion with children about all the emotions surrounding evacuation, and for them to feel real empathy with the characters in it. The twist at the end leads me to say that it is probably better for slightly older primary school children though, rather than younger readers.
Wave Me Goodbye is available to buy online *here.
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