Summer, 1942. Paris is boiling hot and thirteen-year-old Amélie Dreyfus is hiding in the dark cool of her mother’s wardrobe. The sound of heavy boots signals the arrival of German soldiers and when Amélie comes out of the wardrobe it’s a matter of life or death. With her family swept away by the Nazis, Amelie decides to fight back and joins the Resistance.
I absolutely loved this book - it took me right back to the stories I loved as a boy, and those I still love now - spy stories like the ubiquitous Bond and Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider, war stories like Biggles, and Boy's Own tales of derring-do, cunning, danger and bravery. All of these feature in spades within this thrilling historical adventure from acclaimed children’s author and former BBC sports journalist Robin Scott-Elliot whose debut, The Tzar’s Curious Runaways was a Telegraph and an Observer children’s Book of the Year.
I loved how authentic this book felt. The real life locations mentioned - from occupied Paris and it's apartments and rooftops to the remote and severe Scottish countryside used to train undercover operatives before they were sent back to France - are brilliantly described and evocative, adding to the sense of atmosphere created as we follow the heroine of the tale, Amelie, as she becomes involved in the resistance network in Paris during the Second World War. The authenticity continues with the inclusion of realistic descriptions of the characters involved too - some of whom were real-life resistance fighters and involved in the wartime effort, such as Vera Atkins and Maurice Buckmaster. It is evident that the writer was influenced heavily by research into these characters and others, and the details of their behaviour and their inclusion and involvement in the story adds real depth to the setting and events that Amelie finds herself involved with.
The book is, as you would expect, full of drama and danger, action and suspense, as Amelie goes from girl to guerilla fighter over the course of the war and the events she is faced with. Having to make life-or-death decisions in the face of the ever-present Nazis, the book has several heart-in-mouth moments as we wonder whether Ameile will survive to fight another day against a backdrop of danger and betrayal and constant fear for her safety and that of those around her.
The title of the book is very clever, and the theme of 'hide and seek' present throughout as a motif, moving from the game that sets everything off (with Amelie hiding in an Anne-Frank-esque wardrobe spcae in an innocent family game), to the constant battle to hide from the hunters as she plays her part in the resistance efforts in her occupied Paris, and also link to the fabulous ending of the story, too (no spoilers here, though!). The book does not shy away from the horror and terror of the war and the treatment of those captured at the hands of the Nazis, and therefore I would advise its use with Y5 and 6 children upwards, though always with the caveat that teachers and parents know their children and readers best!
What a book - possible my favourite this year so far. What a character in Amelie (made even more powerful by her basis in factual events and people), and what an author for putting it all togather like this...I for one will certainly be grabbing other books by Robin Scott-Elliott after reading this!
I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the blogtour for this book - thank you Fritha and Mikka at Everything With Words. I'm very excited to be able to share with you some of the research and details about what training was like for undercover operatives/spies/resistance fighters like Ameile with this exclusive content from author, Robin Scott-Elliott:
Training to spy for Britain – the background to Hide and Seek
It’s afternoon. A woman arrives at a manor house in the Surrey countryside. Led inside, she
empties the contents of her suitcase, hats, scarves, coats and glasses, and invites her audience
to dress up.
You’re among them, a handful of men and women from different walks of life, a taxi driver,
a salesman, a secretary, an artist. You’ve two things in common; you speak fluent French and
have volunteered to risk your life to, in the words of Winston Churchill, “set Europe ablaze.”
Warnborough Manor is step one in the intense training schedule for agents of the Special
Operations Executive, a name meant to disguise its purpose – just as the agents are being
taught by the visitor, an editor from Vogue, to disguise themselves. Put on/take off your hat
or glasses or coat, change your hair parting, small, unobtrusive acts that might throw off a
pursuer and save you.
Those who have passed through the Manor, learning morse code, disguise, even to steal from
one another, include Noor Inayat Khan and Violette Szabo, who have parachuted into France
and will not come home again.
Pass stage one and you’ll be transferred to Arisaig on Scotland’s wild west coast to be taught
unarmed combat and to use knife and gun by among others Gavin Maxwell, later author of
Ring of Bright Water. There will be lessons in survival skills and how to use explosives,
practising on a disused railway line.
Toughened by your time in Scotland, the next stop’s a parachute course in Lancashire before
returning south to the New Forest, where ‘Killer’ Green – he has underworld connections –
will be your instructor. This is where you learn to lose a tail, make invisible ink, use code and
about day-to-day life in France – don’t ask for milk in your coffee or butter for your croissant
because there is none. Make one mistake and that could spell your end.
The penultimate stop’s a smart apartment on Orchard Court in London. Here you receive
French clothes, false papers. Everything is French. There’s even a supply of used underwear
for your suitcase, as any traveller would have.
Night approaches and it’s time for the airfield, accompanied by Maurice Buckmaster, head of
SOE’s French section, or his assistant Vera Atkins. After strapping on your parachute, you’ll
be handed a tot of rum to settle nerves. The final act is Buckmaster’s idea, a leaving present.
“A silver cigarette case and a rather nice watch,” is how Brian Stonehouse, a radio operator,
remembers it. He will end up in a concentration camp.
As your plane takes off, Buckmaster drives back to London. He doesn’t expect to see you
again. The SOE estimate you will survive six weeks, half the time you’ve just spent training.
Find out more about the book and order a copy at publisher Everything With Words' website: everythingwithwords.com/book/hide-and-seek-by-robin-scott-elliott and on Twitter as @EveryWithWords
Follow author, Robin Scott-Elliott as @RobinScottEllio on Twitter, or via his website: robinscottelliot.com
Thank you to Fritha for the offer of the place on the blogtour, and to the publisher and author for the copy of the book and content included herein.
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) August 2021