Ghostscape by Joe Layburn

cover image

Frances Lincoln, 2008.
(Ages 8+ ) Highly Recommended. This is a gem of a book - a short novel with a big impact. Modern day Aisha, a Somali girl finds herself face to face with 1940s schoolboy Richard when she travels back in time to war torn London during the Blitz. Aisha herself is no stranger to war. Her own father was killed by soldiers in her native Somalia and her relationship with her mother has clearly suffered as a result. School life is difficult too thanks to the school bully. Aisha is tough - she has to be, but meeting Richard gives her the possibility of friendship and the welcome relief of being looked after. When she discovers the horrifying events that took place in her school during World War Two she sets out to save her new friend and his grandfather from certain disaster.

Joe Layburn, himself a teacher, clearly understands children and schools. Ghostscape has a strong sense of place, but Layburn eases off on description in favour of plenty of action and dialogue. The link between Aisha's experiences and Richard's is understated and it is a clever ploy to connect the horrors that Aisha has witnessed with the turmoil of World War Two. The twist at the end will leave you with a lump in your throat.

In just over a hundred pages Ghostscape may not have the depth of Goodnight Mr Tom, or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but Layburn has created a story that will capture children's interest and give them plenty to think and talk about. I would promote this among able but reluctant readers.

Claire Larson