Stars Shall be Bright by Catherine MacPhail

(8.7/10)

"They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old..."

It's World War I and when William's mother dies, James, Belle and he have to go live with Mrs Carter, who puts them up for the duration of the war. Early on it's obvious that none of them like Mrs Carter and she soon decides to send them to a Home. For years the three of them had enjoyed fun times with their father, playing football and games, but when Mrs Carter comes to take care of their ailing mother, it is as though she poisoned her against their father for not being around to provide for their children. This results in him telling his wife he is going to leave, working on the railways for a stint in the army as a soldier. He tells her that at least he will be able to send some money back, and more importantly he's out of her way. Not one to be cruel, he sends letters home to her and the children, telling them how much he misses them, but Mrs Carter's cruelty toward them leads them to leave.

Their mission is to find their father but it isn't as easy as they think. None of them wants to go into a Home, and James decides to take his brother and sister to the railway station to stay in one of their compartments overnight until they can get away.

As readers continue with the story, they can't blame the children for not wanting to stay in Mrs Carter's supposed "care". Although the rest of the people in the village love her and see her as a good Christian woman for taking the three of them in when they might not have been taken in by anyone else. The truth is, she is a nasty woman who hates the children and can't wait to get rid of them. She disliked their father, viewing him as a waster who avoided his duty to his wife and children. James and his brother and sister know they will have to fend for themselves from now on, and one can imagine the dangers that are to come.

It says on the back cover blurb that this is a part retelling of the "true story of the Quintinshill Rail Disaster, yet it is 57 pages in until we get to it. Most of the story is spent with James telling anyone who will listen about his dad being on the front. Unluckily for him, they are all on the train destined for Liverpool before it ever reached the front, and crashes. Catherine MacPhail makes it clear to all, the true heroes of war where men on the front were not expected to return from the battlefield, while those who did were never the same again. Many will want to hear about the disaster and Catherine has included a seven page "We Will Remember Them" telling of the original rail disaster and a poem called "For the Fallen" by Robert Lawrence Bunyon that was originally published in The Times newspaper in 1914.

Stars Shall be Bright is an eerily accurate representation of wartime life during World War I and Catherine MacPhail can be credited for showing young readers a piece of real history.

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