The Messenger Bird by Ruth Eastham

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The Messenger Bird by Ruth Eastham

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: His father has been charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act, and twelve-year-old Nathan is the only person who can prove his innocence. But the hours are ticking by, there are people determined to stop him, and the clues he encounters lead to mysteries kept hidden since World War Two.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 250 Date: May 2012
Publisher: Scholastic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781407124612

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Three days before Nathan's thirteenth birthday, his father, who works for the Ministry of Defence, is arrested for leaking top secret information to the enemy and causing the deaths of British soldiers. As he is dragged into a police car, he manages to mutter a few words to Nathan, asking him to follow a trail of clues and solve the mystery which will prove his father's innocence. But he urges Nathan to trust absolutely no one. He must not even confide in his mother and sister, because telling them will put them in danger too. Frightened, weary and confused, Nathan must use every ounce of his courage and ingenuity to save his father.

For some time after the last war Bletchley Park was kept a secret, but eventually people felt that the efforts of the men and women who worked to intercept and solve coded messages from the Nazis should be celebrated. After all, the work they did in solving, for example, the Enigma code, is estimated to have shortened the course of the war by about two years. The huts and meeting rooms were renovated and have now been opened to the public, and the intriguing work that went on there has caught the imagination of writers and film directors as well as documentary makers.

Nathan and his family have recently inherited Foxglove Cottage from his Great-Aunt Hilda, and have not yet had time to clear out the piles of wartime memorabilia she stored in every room — never mind get round to sorting out the leak in the roof or the wonky heating. Following his father's whispered words Nathan discovers that one of the Bletchley Park code-breakers, Lily Kenley, was actually billeted in Foxglove Cottage, where she left a trail of clues in November 1940 relating to the mystery of her own arrest for treason. Somehow these clues are connected to his father's case in the modern day.

Nathan happens to be good at puzzles and codes, but readers will easily identify with his plight because he is an ordinary lad, not yet a teenager, who finds himself in a terrifying situation. He cannot turn to a single adult for help, not even his family, he has no idea who is for and who is against him, and he has to keep everything he is doing from his mother for her own protection. He evens begins to wonder, in the face of apparently irrefutable evidence, if his father is indeed guilty. But he keeps going despite his misgivings and fears, driven by the knowledge that his father's freedom and even his life depend on his efforts.

It is always a pleasure to read a book where young people are celebrated for using their brains, and not just their kung-fu skills, to save the day. Nathan is determined, driven by love for his dad, and he refuses to allow his fear of heights or even a painful injury to stop him doing what he feels is right. More than once he is tempted to confide in a helpful adult, especially as the situation gets worse and worse, but in the end his courage holds and he discovers far more than he ever expected. This is a lively, quick-paced story full of incident and excitement, but utterly grounded in reality, and it makes for a thrilling read while showing just how much was achieved by the heroes and heroines of Bletchley.

Another thrilling adventure for young readers which involves code-breaking and Bletchley Park is Secret Breakers: The Power of Three by H L Dennis. Older readers will appreciate Morse Code Wrens of Station X by Anne Glyn-Jones.

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