Friday, August 7, 2015

The Children Who Stayed Behind, by Bruce Carter

Staff review by Chris Saliba

When a group of children are left behind in the seaside town of Brighton during a wartime attack, all sorts of adventures ensue. 

The Children Who Stayed Behind (originally titled The Kidnapping of Kensington) is a children’s novel by Bruce Carter, published in 1958. The author’s real name was Richard Hough, who wrote children’s fiction under this pseudonym.

The story opens with a rather breathtaking pursuit. Gillian Hartford, the middle child of the Hartfords, is on the run. That horrid family of incorrigible urchins, the Foulshams, are chasing Gillian, intent on kidnapping her beloved rabbit Kensington. The Foulsham family live just opposite the Hartfords and are forever up to mischief, teasing and playing tricks.

The Hartford family comprises Drake, the eldest boy, Gillian, and young Sammy. Their father works as a busy local doctor, while their doting mother frets and worries about them. Eight children make up the Foulsham brood - Arthur, Eleanor, Jeremy, Sybil, Randolph, Vincent, Simon and Rosetti. George Foulsham, their widowed father, works as a surrealist painter, styling himself somewhat of a bohemian. The reality, however, we are informed, is that he makes most of his money as a commercial illustrator of romantic stories.

The seaside town of Brighton where all the children reside is about to come under attack. It’s the Second World War and the Germans are flying bomber planes in an attempt to take Brighton. Hence the entire population is being evacuated by train. When the Foulshams and Hartfords continue their argument over who actually owns the pet rabbit Kensington (the Foulshams believe the rabbit is their own), the children miss their train and are left behind on their own.

The Hartford children, being more upright, try to do all the right things and act responsibly. The Foulshams, on the other hand, continue in their own anarchic style, not taking things too seriously. In one of several comic scenes, they figure out how to run the dodgem cars and ghost train at the seaside fair grounds. They’re not averse to a bit of looting either, and use toffee apples as weapons against the Hartfords. Their leader is the eldest boy, Arthur, whose easygoing philosophy is perhaps best summed up in his line, “Everything will come out in the wash”.

A dramatic event, however, forces the two families to work together. Their pluck and industry in successfully resolving a possible crisis gives the novel a rousing, triumphant ending that is entirely satisfying. How you wish you could have been there!

Richard Hough actually grew up in Brighton. While the novel is fictional, the town actually was prepared for a possible invasion. It’s this background that gives the novel its authentic texture and flavour.

The Children Who Stayed Behind is a real treat. It has everything that you could ask for in a brilliant children’s novel: a bunch of kids who get left behind in an adult world but who must make their own way. A winner.

The Children Who Stayed Behind, by Bruce Carter. Published by Vintage Classics. ISBN: 9781784870225  RRP: $14.99

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