The First World War may well be literature’s most chosen time period, but that hasn’t stopped new author Joseph Lamb from creating a children’s story, set in 1917, that feels both hopeful and completely fresh.
The God of All Small Boys finds 11-year-old James flung from his privileged and quiet life as the son of an army captain, into his cousins’ rough and tumble world, in mill-town Dundee.
There isn’t a lot of money – he shares a bed with three other boys and gets an emergency swimsuit fashioned from an old nightgown – but there is plenty of warmth, from everyone except his disgruntled cousin Billy.
While the war is a constant presence, the book’s focus is on everyday life – particularly the everyday lives of the local boys who, James is initially shocked to realise “were just…playing alone in the streets!”
James comes to relish their freedom, in keeping with a philosophy shared by his new friend Kevin, who claims that there is a ‘God of All Small Boys’ who “keeps us from breaking our necks on scaffolding every two minutes, or sometimes lets us find pennies in the gutter.”
It’s a lovely premise, relishing the glories of running wild, discovering dens and climbing absolutely everything, but it is tested when events take a tragic turn.
By savouring the ordinary (the scrapes – like getting an allergic reaction to playing with stone wool – ring very true) Lamb has written something extraordinary – a reminder that amid the worries of wartime, childhood, with all its adventures, carries on.
The God of All Small Boys, by Joseph Lamb, Cranachan