On a rather soggy Saturday morning in Herefordshire, after arriving late last night at a cottage with a power cut and the powerful smell of rot emanating from a many-weeks defrosted and prodigiously leaking freezer, I was not feeling as pro-countryside as I sometimes do.
But my faith in all things pastoral is being gradually restored, and I am powerfully reminded, too, of my own response to the countryside elements of Helen Peter’s rurally-set debut novel, The Secret Hen House Theatre by The Guardian’s three lovely mentions today.
First, Linda Buckley-Archer reviewed it as The Guardian’s children’s book of the week. She says, “There’s something timeless about Helen Peters’s accomplished and hugely engaging debut… Drawn with humour and affection, Hannah’s world is utterly convincing… There is a lovely moment when Hannah takes a newborn lamb from its cardboard box at the bottom of the Aga, feeling its “quick, shallow heart-beat under nubbly wool”. Its body is warm and comforting “like a hot water bottle”. “You’re mine,” she says… It is said that your capital as a writer is your childhood. In celebrating friendship and family, a country upbringing and the joy of discovering something you truly love to do, Peters has drawn on hers to create a memorable story with broad appeal”.
Helen Peters singing copies of The Secret Hen House Theatre in the signing tent at the Hay Festival
The Guardian also asked writers and children to nominate books, new and old, that might be good additions to the Summer Reading Challenge to read six books over the summer. Of the six children’s writers asked to nominate their books, two, Julia Donaldson and Michael Morpurgo named The Secret Hen House Theatre.
Julia Donaldson says, “As a child, I loved The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown, and The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters is another engaging book about amateur dramatics”.
Michael Morpurgo says, “Helen Peters is a new writer and The Secret Hen House Theatre feels very autobiographical. Hannah Roberts is the eldest of four children; her father, a single parent is an overworked farmer struggling to keep his farm going against a greedy landlord and vandals who try to destroy his dream. Hannah takes her responsibilities as eldest daughter very seriously, but what she really wants to do is become an actor like her dead mother. The book follows the dramatic twists and turns as she tries to write, direct and act in her own play. Life on the rundown farm is wonderfully described – you can almost smell the pigs and hear the lambs bleating. Full of action, with a happy ending, this is a book I didn’t want to finish.”
The book is, in fact, one of four Nosy Crow titles included in the 2012 Reading Challenge official lists, and we wrote about how pleased we were about our inclusions in the selection here. And here are links to both the older and younger lists.
We’re so proud to have published The Secret Hen House Theatre. It’s great to have its qualities recognised and articulated by others.