World War II Tales, 4: The Phantom Farm

Written by Terry Deary
Review by Marion Rose

This title is from a new series by the much loved Terry Deary, of Horrible Histories fame. The series offers exciting stories from World War II, set on the Home Front. In chapter book format, with black and white illustrations, the stories are perfectly pitched to the over sevens. A short epilogue gives some of the factual background.

The Phantom Farm is set outside Portsmouth and delves into some dodgy dealings on the black market. The tale is told from the viewpoint of Rose, a feisty young girl whose father runs a pub. Her sharp eyes note the unlikely presence of a London spiv, Slick Sam, at a local farm. Rose and Special Constable Latham investigate the strange noises and goings-on – with intriguing revelations.

What I particularly liked about this story was that it highlighted the complexity of the moral issues faced by ordinary people during wartime. The black-marketeers are selling fresh meat to the rich, which is clearly abhorrent when the rationing system is meant to ensure everyone gets a fair share. And yet, the likeable Rose and her family have already enjoyed a fresh chicken from the same farm in exchange for three pints of beer. As Rosie’s Dad puts it, ‘Everybody cheats a little’.

The characters are deftly and humorously drawn. Slick Sam’s lapels ‘almost touched his arms’, while Special Constable Latham is rigidly moral – except when a glass of Golden Ale is available out of hours! The story rolls along and Deary’s accomplished story-telling skills could be summed up in the lines he quotes from an old song

I picture the scene on a cold winter’s night

With the blackout, the bombs and the Blitz.

The world might be tragic, but inside there was magic

With the audience rolling in fits.