A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan


The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey in Cornwall, were, for many years, very much lost. Once a thriving kitchen and flower garden run by a large team of staff, they became neglected and overgrown to such a degree that they were left hidden. In 1990 the gardens were rediscovered and thankfully brought back to life, and you can now visit and view them as they used to be.

The reason for the gardens becoming lost, forms the basis of this story A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan, written by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Martin Impey.

When World War 1 broke out in 1914, most of the garden staff were enlisted to fight, and tragically, many of them never returned. Their names were scratched into the toilet wall of the gardens, and the discovery of these names led to much work tracking down old photos, documents and relations of those who used to work in the gardens. One such name, was Will, a kind and gentle soul who is at the very heart of this rather beautiful book.

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I recently posted on Twitter that A Song for Will was the book that broke the blogger. It’s completely true. It is quite rare that I’m ever stuck for words, particularly when it comes to books! Yet, this one, has been a struggle to write about. Bear with me, let me, hopefully, show you why.

Hilary and Martin have been producing war based books since 2015, with Where the Poppies Now Grow, The Christmas Truce and Flo of the Somme. All stunning books which you must take a look at if you haven’t already.

We have shelves of war based books in our library as it’s an incredibly important topic, and Hilary and Martin’s books all stand out as a unique way of addressing it. This is because the combination of Hilary’s beautifully poetic writing, along with Martin’s soft and gentle, yet evocative, illustrations put the heart right back into the story. The tales of this harrowing time suddenly become all the more human, emotional and heartfelt. Facts and figures are of course very important, but for children to really understand the sacrifices made by our ancestors we need to go deeper, and this is where Hilary and Martin get it so very right every single time.

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A Song for Will continues this pattern of expertly produced non-fiction, yet it is slightly different to the duo’s previous books.

Firstly, if you order now you can received the special, first edition of A Song for Will, and to begin with, before we even delve into the story, I have to say that this is a beautifully crafted book. It has a gorgeous vintage feel to it, and oozes quality with its royal blue colour and Martin’s stunning illustration on the cover, elements of which have been embossed to give a really luxurious feel. This book has been created with care and attention to the very last detail.

Whereas Hilary and Martin’s previous books were written in a poem style, A Song for Will is a more substantial read, and has been written in the form of letters between young gardener Alfie and his friend and fellow gardener, Fred, who has been enlisted, along with Will and other gardeners, to fight in the First World War.

This was such a clever way of approaching the storytelling in this book, as it provides the story from two, very different, points of view. We have Alfie and other staff members, who remain at home, struggling with the not insignificant effects of war upon their daily life, while remaining stoically optimistic. Missing their loved ones and colleagues, rationing, maintaining life with very little, and, of course, the fear. It’s a side of the war not always addressed very effectively in children’s books particularly.

From Fred’s point of view we see how things are for him out on the front line and all the difficulties he faces along with Will. Not just fighting on front lines, but dealing with other risks such as illness due to the poor living conditions, missing family and the effects of the war upon him and his dear friend Will, which are sensitively shown through Hilary’s delicate and subtle writing:- I noticed that Will’s hand was shaking – he must have been excited to be back.” (Alfie)

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The writing has been perfectly pitchedfor children to allow openings for discussion about how the soldiers and loved ones felt during this time. The story is so carefully developed through the letter writing to show the stress that the soldiers must have experienced in a subtle way, through the eyes of a naive young gardener. The soldiers would come home and want to be the best for their loved ones, put on a brave face, yet all the while struggling to cope with PTSD and the trauma of what they may have seen and experienced. It is really quite heartbreaking to read between the superbly written lines of this story.

As for Martin Impey’s illustrations. I’m not entirely sure how to do them justice. Gently weaving through the written pages of letters, Martin has brought a world to life. A world that did actually exist at one time and suddenly, by reading through this book, you’re taken into the heart of. Each setting and location has its own distinctive atmosphere, the gardens bright and colourful, full of love and life and yet gradually changing as the war develops. Then the war scenes, startlingly different, stark and muted, the bravery and yet the fear crying out from the pages. Each character in A Song for Will is a little creation of character. I fell in love with every person in this story through Hilary’s words and Martin’s drawings, you quickly feel involved with everyone in the story as it plays out in your imagination.

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I will happily admit to stroking my hand across many of the illustrations in A Song for Will, and I’m not sure why. In an attempt to bring the people back, to feel their emotions, to connect with them in some way? I really don’t know. I just know that this book took me by the hand into the intimate lives of some incredibly special people, including kind and gentle Will, who sadly never made it back from the war, and yet left a lasting impression on many people, least of all, thanks to this book, myself.

A Song for Will is perfect for the classroom, there is huge scope for discussion and project work. It’s perfect for libraries, for bookshelves at home, it is for children and adults, teachers, book lovers, illustration and art lovers, historians. A Song for Will is for everyone and anyone.

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When Hilary and Martin get together on a book, magic happens every time, but A Song for Will is different again for the duo. It is incredibly apparent that this is a labour of love. Hilary and Martin are intensely passionate about this subject, they immerse themselves in the stories of the people they write about, and Will’s story, in particular, was no exception. This passion is reflected in every single page, every word written and every line drawn of this precious and emotional book. That is what makes it special. A Song for Will is a book with its very own heartbeat created by this astonishing writing and illustrating team.

A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan is available now from all good book shops and libraries now. Please get it, read it and love it even half as much as I do.

Thank you for reading this Book Monster Review.


To find out more about the Gardens of Heligan please visit their website here:
– http://heligan.com

Author Hilary Robinson resides on the internet right here:
– https://www.hilaryrobinson.co.uk

And illustrator Martin Impey can be found here:
– http://www.martinimpey.com



Lost Magic – The Very Best of Brian Moses


I’m a big fan of poetry, for young and old, and we are fortunate enough to have some fantastic and talented poets around to inspire and entertain children and adults. One such poet is the fantastic Brian Moses who has been writing poetry incredibly successfully for many years. I was very fortunate that Brian offered to send me a copy of his latest anthology Lost Magic The Very Best of Brian Moses, Cover illustration by Ed Boxall and inside illustrations by Chris Garbutt and published by Macmillan Children’s Books.

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Build the Dragon


So, sunday afternoon and blogging to catch up on. So, what do I find myself doing? Sprawled on the floor building a dragon of course! All in the name of blogging you understand! Because this was for the book Build the Dragon written by Dugald Steer, illustrated by Jonathan Woodward and Douglas Carrel and published by Templar Publishing.

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BookImages2Welcome to Book Monster’s stop on the Botanicum blog tour, and I’m incredibly excited to review this glorious book and welcome illustrator Katie Scott here for a Q&A, I know! How great is that? So climb aboard the blog train, it’s a happy day!!

Botanicum is curated by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis, published by Big Picture Press in association with Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

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Smart about Wild Animals.


So, back to what I promised, and that is some more glorious non-fiction for you! I’m a little late to the party with these two books, but I do think they are completely worth the wait. Flying Eye books are a publisher who have a certain style to their work. Their publications scream quality, with a distinctive retro styling that I have always really rather loved.

Their non-fiction books are eye catching and appealing for children with a look that begs to be read. I’m going to look at two of Flying Eye’s recent animal themed releases today.

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For Nostalgia’s Sake


In a lot of respects, other than it being pertinent to my job, I blog about children’s books because they are nostalgic to me. Books were a huge part of my childhood, they made a reader of me. Some of my fondest memories are of my favourite books. One day I’ll do a blog post to share some of those with you.

It seems however, that we’re witnessing a revival of some of the popular older books and characters. Publishers recognise the power of nostalgia. Parents, teachers and library staff love to share their own favourite books with children and this explains the recent resurgence of old favourites. We are lucky that publishers, authors and illustrators recognise the value of these.

So, for my first A-Blog-A-Day-Holiday I’m going to review not one, but four such books!!

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