Having loved Barbara Henderson’s first book Fir for Luck I was delighted to be asked to review her second children’s book, Punch. Drawn in by another great cover I couldn’t wait to get started, and what a cracking read it is. A fast paced and heartwarming story set in late Victorian Scotland.
It starts in Inverness in 1889, when orphaned Phin is ordered by his Uncle to collect some sausages late at night from their market stall. Whilst doing this Phin accidentally starts a fire in the market square and has to flee for his life. I love the dramatic start to this story, which is sure to draw in the reader. Barbara Henderson brilliantly captures the events as they unfold and the fears of Phin in those first few hours after the fire that changes everything.
“ It’s cold, really cold. Or maybe it’s the sweat running down my neck. Away, away from here, is all I can think.” (p9)
As Phin runs from Inverness he bumps into an escaped prisoner called Mr Robertson, who needs Phin to help cover his escape.
“ ‘Listen, I willnae harm ye. But, they’ll be looking fer a man on his own, no’ a man and a boy. I’ll let you got once I am clear o’ them.’ His eyes dart up the hill and long the river, ahead and behind. ” (p16)
I quickly warmed to both characters. On the run from the authorities they come across a travelling family called the Moffats. And this is how the story gets it’s name PUNCH. The Moffat’s travel across Scotland putting on Punch and Judy shows. The Moffat’s take Phin and Mr Robertson in, and teach them the tricks of the trade and soon they are an integral part of the show. But, all the while there is the added tension that they might be discovered by the police.
“The pot-woman answers, irritated: “You won’t go anywhere in a hurry. The sheriff officers have blocked the road ahead, they’re searching every cart and carriage. “ p43
In the story Barbara Henderson clearly shows her love of puppetry and there are wonderful insights into what putting on a Punch and Judy Opera was like in Victorian times. To find out more about this and what fired the authors enthusiasm for puppetry check out my interview here.
Punch is action packed with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader interested. Integrated into this on the run adventure is Phin’s personal journey. He is at first not sure about Mr Robertson, you begin to discover this is in part because of his own experience with his abusive Uncle. At the beginning Phin trusts no one, but he gradually begins to trust the adults around him. The relationship that develops between Phin and Mr Robertson is heartwarming to see and add’s something really special. Added to this is another layer as Phin begins to have memories of a more terrible crime. What is really clever about the way that Barbara Henderson has written the story is that you only begin to find out the true extend of this darker crime, as Phin begins to have other adults in his life, which cushion’s the impact for readers a little.
I would highly recommend this for all children aged 9 years and over, and for teenagers and adults too. Great for those looking for a fast paced, heart felt adventure, in the unusual setting of victorian Scotland.
You can BUY PUNCH from Amazon here
Read my Blog Tour interview with author Barbara Henderson here.