‘The Closest Thing to Flying,’ by Gill Lewis, cover by Paola Escobar.

Two girls, a century apart. Together they’ll find freedom.


This story is told in two parts, over two different time periods: the present day and 1891.

The present day: we meet Semira, an Eritrean refugee who undertook a long a dangerous journey across desert and sea with her mother, accompanied by a man who has complete control over their lives.  Semira has just moved to another new house and started at another new school, and doesn’t imagine that she’ll stay very long in either.  Always afraid, she longs for freedom.

1891: Henrietta lives a comfortable but somewhat restricted life in a very respectable household with a stifling mother prone to fits of fainting. However her Aunt Kitty is opening her eyes to new ideas – animal rights, the women’s suffrage movement and learning how to ride a bike.

Another beautifully crafted book from the award-winning author, Gill Lewis.  Although it tackles a range of serious subject areas, they’re broached with a lightness of hand which makes ‘The Closest Thing to Flying’ suitable for upper key stage two readers.

It is refreshing to see a children’sbook which looks at the plight of refugees not during their often terrifying journeys to new countries, but when they are living somewhere strange in very difficult and dangerous situations. Seeing the emotional and financial control inflicted upon Semira and her mother by people-smuggler Robel serves to highlight the struggles faced once seeming safety has been reached.

It was interesting to see the parallels Semira drew between her life and Henrietta’s and how she drew strength from the other girl’s courage and struggles.  I knew very little about the origins of the RSPB but was fascinated to learn that it came about partly because of the elaborate plumage Victorian ladies liked to wear in their hats.

The story also touches upon the growing women’s rights movement at the turn of the century. I’m sure that plenty of modern girls (and boys) would be shocked to learn that it was somehow considered improper for women to wear trousers or ride a bicycle! The fledgling stages of the women’s suffrage movement are highlighted, making the reader aware of the danger these women put themselves in and how widely public opinion was divided.

A brilliant read for anyone aged 10+

Library Girl.

*Many thanks to OUP for sending me this title to review*


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