Barrington Stoke are kicking off the year in fine form with new releases from some of the best writers of children’s books that the UK currently has to offer and this title from Lucy Strange makes for an engaging and suspense-filled read.
Bess thought a job at the cotton mill in the countryside, far away from the streets of London, would be a fresh start. But the work is hard, the living conditions are tough and the boss is cruel. There’s even talk of a terrifying mermaid living in the millpond. The place is more like a prison than the beginnings of a new life and Bess isn’t the only one feeling trapped. Bess wants out and she has a plan to not only free herself but also the mysterious mermaid in the mill pond…
History and myth combine in this dark, tense and atmospheric read from the fabulous Lucy Strange that captures the attention of the reader right from the start. The Mermaid in the Millpond is a tale full of hope as two strong-minded and high-spirited young girls battle the harsh realities of life at the cotton mills with a fierce resolve and a determination to not only survive but to also improve their situation.
It is a fascinating insight into what it was like for children who worked in the cotton mills in Victorian Britain and Strange expertly immerses readers into this historical period. Told in first person, Bess tells of the unbearable working conditions all in exchange for an uncomfortable bed and a rather unappetising meal, the daily punishments and beatings for the merest infringement, the stern gaze of the ever watchful boss and of young bodies riddled with aches and pains beyond their tender years.
Eleven-year-old Bess has been hardened by life and following the death of her mother, who died from tuberculosis and that Bess still carries a heavy responsibility for, she has developed a hard exterior and is determined to not let anyone get close to her again. But then she meets Dot. And Dot could charm her way into the life of anyone, even Bess’. Soon, a friendship begins to blossom and with it the possibility to escape and of a better life.
This is everything I expect and love from Lucy Strange and with short chapters that often end on cliff-hangers I was racing through the pages. The illustrations by Pam Smy are superb; dark, moody and atmospheric, perfectly capturing the grim situation.
True to Barrington Stoke form, this read is printed in dyslexia friendly font and on tinted paper ensuring the book can be accessed by every child.
With huge thanks to the lovely peeps at Barrington Stoke for the copy I received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Recommended for 8+.