Gaslight by Eloise Williams

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It isn’t every book that wins the whippet seal of approval, you know.

” My mother disappeared on the sixth of September, 1894.

I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge.”

And so starts an intriguing prologue that leads us into Nansi Howell’s life.


In chapter one, we find Nansi five years older and in the dubious “care” of Sid who runs a theatre along with other less salubrious ventures. Under Sid’s control, she has learned to take on other identities as both an actor and a thief. Still, Nansi is determined to hold on to her hopes and dreams doing what she can to uncover any clues as to where her mother might be.

Then the arrival of two new theatre acts have an impact on Nansi’s life that means things will never be the same again. Readers aged nine years plus will thrill at being plunged into Eloise Williams’ tale of Victorian Cardiff. Nansi is a character to take to the heart and one who children will find a great empathy for. Gaslight is full of surprises and as good an adventure as you could possibly want and as I’ve come to expect from Firefly Press who consistently publish amazing children’s literature. And look at that cover! Isn’t it just beautiful?


I’ve been looking forward to reading Gaslight for a long time and now I’ve finished it the one thing that strikes me as amazing is the amount of heart and drama Eloise Williams has created in less than 200 pages.  There’s huge depth of story and as I read, I felt like Gaslight functioned as an ink and paper time machine, with surroundings as real as you would wish for. This is exactly what makes me want to share it in class: to see the response from children to not only a cracking adventure plot, but also to the wider picture of Nansi’s life. I fully anticipate mass gasping and holding of breath and hands raised with questions that just can’t wait. I’m pretty convinced Gaslight is one of those books that keeps kids glued even after the home-time bell has rung. I’m looking forward to finding out!

Gaslight: a vivid and breath-taking piece of story-telling brilliance.

Dog Hair and Derring Do: The Girl Who Walked on Air by Emma Carroll

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The Girl Who Walked on Air by Emma Carroll

the girl who

Dog Hair

The thing I like best about Emma Carroll is that she understands dog hair. Non doggy people wrongly assume it to be a total pain that stops you from buying dark soft home furnishings and sees you wedded to the ‘lint’ roller. But actually, it can be a truly lovely thing. My dog Mr Fly is a seventeen year old whippet lurcher who has always been outstanding at producing dog hair. We have been able to bless most of the Midlands and the South-West with his fur over the years, and better places they are for it too. A lack of dog hair, on the other hand, means a lack of dog and this is a terrible, terrible thing. Emma Carroll gets this:

“I pined for Pip too. It was odd to wear clothes without a single dog hair on them.” Chapter 21, The Girl Who Walked on Air.

Mr Fly in his Youth.

Mr Fly in his Youth.

I couldn’t agree more with this sensible thought.

Derring Do

Our protagonist and dog appreciator here is Louie Reynolds, a young girl who works in a Victorian circus. Louie has ambitions to be a show stopper- a tightrope walker! When Louie walks the tightrope, she feels she belongs there. This is a blessing as life hasn’t offered her much opportunity to understand her place in the world. Her mother abandoned her as a baby, leaving her with good people and a fine hound but not with the knowledge to understand why she was left behind. Then there’s Mr Chipchase, the circus owner. He seems determined to keep her hidden away and safely on the ground. Louie’s frustration is palpable. Then one day, half an opportunity arises for her to fulfil her dreams and walk the rope for real! Thrilling stuff and the start of an adventure that takes her firstly across the ocean to America, then towards another formidable body of water: Niagara Falls…

This is a cracking good read which wraps up nicely in 300 or so pages. As I got closer to the end of the book, I would’ve been more than happy to find that Louie’s story was going to continue in a second volume, but sadly that wasn’t to be.

GGGG- A great adventure for children 9 plus. It’s wonderful to read a story which brings some joy to the Victorian era! Now, this leads me to my second point. Non school based folks, at this point you are excused. Missing you already though x.

Have they gone?

Inspiration and Added Value

The Girl who Walked on Air has got to me. It made me think. I’ve been teaching 9 to 11-year-old children for a good while now. Any primary school teacher will tell you that teaching through topics has been popular again for ages and it isn’t going away. Some topics tend to crop up in your year group again and again. For me, that’s always been ‘The Victorians’. Along with the obvious history gubbins, it’s always good to liven up the learning with a relevant piece of fiction.With this topic, it’s usually Berlie Doherty’s Street Child: our default Victorian based read. Although informative and entertaining, starting the day with a few pages of Jim Jarvis’ woes can sometimes leave the kids looking fairly stricken as they pad quietly off to literacy, hollow-eyed by 9:15, me behind them feeling like the worst teacher ever and making plans (that I will later forget) to pop down the garage at lunchtime for a bag of Chupa Chups to make up for it…

The Victorian era was tough for kids. We know that. We teach that pretty thoroughly too, I’d say. So any teachers looking for a way to bring joy to this traditionally dark topic, give The Girl Who Walked on Air a go and reflect the excitement of these wonderful times: the crazy popularity of the circus- the more dangerous the better! I can imagine a totally inspiring term’s work evolving, with fantastic PE lessons based on developing circus acts! DT could see us developing our own perfectly balanced creations to travel a class tightrope! Probably best to keep the kids off it though. The risk assessment would be horrendous. The right book can revolutionise the way we teach a topic. This is one of those books – pass it on. Let’s get the word around and put some new blood into the curriculum.

More to come on this subject…

Teachers: for those looking to bring the dead to life, GGGGG- a true book of glory


After a second opinion? Here’s a cracking review from a fellow blogger: