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Just Henry (Costa Book Award - Children's Book Award) Paperback – 5 May 2008
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"'The author has a wonderful gift for hanging a richly woven tapestry around an essentially simple frame.' Times Education Supplement."
From the award-winning author of "Goodnight Mister Tom" comes "Just Henry": a gripping mystery-thriller and an insightful snapshot of time, set in post-war Britain. It's 1949 and life is bleak for Henry. He misses his father who died a war hero, and he escapes from his annoying stepfather and stepsister whenever he can and goes to the cinema - his passion.One day in the cinema queue he meets Mrs Beaumont who also loves films, and lends Henry a camera for his school project. Henry is disgusted that he's been put in a group with Jeffries, the son of a man who went AWOL, and Pip, who was born illegitimate; but he's about to learn that tolerance and friendship are more important than social stigmas.Henry will need his new friends when he processes the film and makes an alarming discovery.Like a bomb waiting to explode, Henry's world is about to unravel.See all Product description
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This is the story of Henry, just Henry because as we discover throughout the story he is coming to terms with not being who he thought he was a Dodge and then a Carpenter, growing up with one ideal and heroic view of life and his past only to see it shatter in front of his very eyes and a new future build in front of him with far reaching consequences.
Henry lives with his mother, his half sister Molly and his `Uncle' Bill. Also residing in the front room is Gran, the mother of his lost heroic father who died saving Private Jeffries. Gran is the one who is keeping Henry's father alive and making sure that he leads a life his father wanted. This has isolated Henry and when a new school teacher, Mr Finch makes him work with two what his Gran calls undesirables, Jeffries (whose father is a deserter) and Pip (who is illegitimate) Henry has to face a lot of prejudices all of them born from himself.
Through the medium of post war Britain trying to recover Magorian creates a world where we learn about the bomb sites which are picked over by the local children, what was left from destruction by the bombing, rationing is still on and everyone is trying to make do and mend five years after the war has ended. Magorian uses cinemas and films to unite all the youngsters and the adults in the film.
This is where there is no class divide, where it does not matter about your parentage but where everyone enjoys the images on the screen. The choice of films and cinemas is in abundance and where showings are followed by smaller films, newsreels, cartoons and then the big feature again. To enable Henry to watch all these films he needs to have someone take him into the cinema, in the days when just asking an adult in the queue was common. This is how Henry meets Mrs Beaumont and his life and all those he knows changes.
Mrs Beaumont is the guardian angel of this story, her position, her knowledge; the people she knows and her home are open to all regardless of their background, their position, their knowledge and where they live. Some might say you have to suspend belief that this woman just seemed to have the money and wherewithal to help but actually it does not matter all it does is enhance the story.
What is created in a book which draws you in within about twenty pages and has everything that you could possibly want in a novel, romance, crime, a thriller element and justice and a happy ending.
For adults read this book, you would not know you were reading something which is pitched at children. For children I think if they have tackled the large volumes of Harry Potter then this (and Magorian's other novels) could be easily absorbed and enjoyed by them and they would be learning about history probably without even reading it. A book to be read out aloud together and then read alone to enjoy more and more.
Henry is coming to the end of his school life at the Secondary Modern he made sure he got into. This year things are different: Mr Finch, the new teacher, is using project work and presentations instead of the usual boring teaching of facts. Henry will be able to show his project work on films, his favourite subject. The trouble is he will have to work with Pop and Jeffries, both of whom are not the "right" kind of boys.
If it weren't for his gran, then Henry's home life would be awful, what with his mean stepfather and annoying half-sister. If only his dad hadn't died.
As 1949 turns into 1950 the boy has some serious lessons to learn, not least of which is that things are not always what they seem.
The story cleverly details the attitudes of the time and how warped they were from our point of view while making the point that in some ways those attitudes are still around. The reader grows with Henry in his perception of the adult world.
The book will encourage young readers to question their own views while being involved in a really good story. Michelle Magorian uses the structure and style of books from that period and shifts the sensibilities for a modern audience. Great stuff.
At school he finds himself drawn in by his history teacher, Mr Finch, who inspires his pupils by finding out what interests them and gets them to research it. Their form is then put into small groups according to their interest. To Henry's horror he is in the same group as Pip, an illegitimate boy and Jeffries, the son of the deserter. Henry's grandmother has passed on her prejudices to him and he finds it hard to shake them off. Henry has a lot of growing up to do and he is pulled in many different directions by the influences on his life. How he deals with the dilemmas he faces makes for an absorbing read.
Throughout the book there is an enormous amount of detail about cameras and films. I found this too much at times as it sometimes felt as though it had been clumsily inserted into the story and it leads to a bit too much telling rather than showing. I also felt that problems were a little too easily resolved - Mrs Beaumont being a bit of an overall saver of the day. But I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in that period of history.
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