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January 1942: Lizzie Butterworth and her little brother Freddie live with their dad in Rochdale, Lancashire. Two months ago their mum was killed by a bomb which fell on her shop. Lizzie is being bullied and taunted at school and on the way home, because her dad won't join the army. He is a conscientious objector who doesn't believe it's right to kill people. As conscription has been introduced making nearly all men aged 18-51 liable to be called up for military service (and therefore required to fight), this means he is breaking the law and may well be treated as a criminal. Dad has decided they are going to move to Whiteway, a Colony (a sort of alternative community), for people who don't believe in war, in Gloucestershire.
Initially Lizzie enjoys Whiteway, particularly as it has been decided that she shouldn't go to the local school so as not to draw attention to the family. She is disappointed that plans are made to continue her education. However, it quickly becomes impossible for them to stay at Whiteway and the family goes on the run.
One of the best things about historical fiction for children is the possibility of creating very interesting child and teenage characters - they want to play but they have concerns and responsibilities which are often rather different from those of their modern counterparts.
I thought Lizzie was a strong and convincing young heroine. She has strong opinions about the injustice being done to her dad and family, and is willing to try and argue with other kids at school, their own relatives and anyone else who accuses him of being cowardly. Of course, since their mum died, dad and Freddie are all she has and she is very loyal. I wasn't sure how old she was meant to be, perhaps 11 or 12, but her experiences have made her wise for her years - she takes care of her brother (who is no more than about 6) a lot. She is in mourning for her mum, and deals with the stresses of bereavement and their current situation by talking to her, and presumably working out what her mum's view on something would have been.
She isn't perfect though. When she makes a new friend at Whiteway, she is keen to get out and play and to impress him, and it is because of Lizzie's recklessness in going out of the colony to a funfair that they have to move on.
We see the other characters in the book mainly through Lizzie's eyes, but Mitchelhill makes good use of conversations to show us what characters are like beyond her opinion of them. There is lots of dialogue which helps to give the story dramatic pace, as the Butterworths keep moving, looking for a place of safety. The dialogue is also useful for revealing why people are so critical of Dad's views - some of them have loved ones who have been called up and are in danger and see Dad's attitude as morally wrong. Mitchelhill never goes into speeches, keeping the exchanges short and snappy but very revealing.
I thought Run Rabbit Run would be a great read for kids from about 8 upwards, and for much older readers who are interested in fiction set during WWII. If children are learning about World War II at school, this is a lively addition to their learning and offering a slightly different perspective. The Butterworths are fictional characters, but Whiteway is a real place which still exists. There is a Note from the Author which offers a very brief introduction to the novel's historical background, but this could be a starting point for further research projects.
This review first appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk
Run Rabbit Run was published by Andersen Press in March 2011, it has a cover price of £5.99 though Amazon currently sells it for just £3.19, and it has 256 pages.