Clara Button is no ordinary librarian. While the world remains at war, in East London Clara has created the country’s only underground library, built over the tracks in the disused Bethnal Green tube station. Down here a secret community thrives: with thousands of bunk beds, a nursery, a café and a theatre offering shelter, solace and escape from the bombs that fall above.
Along with her glamorous best friend and library assistant Ruby Munroe, Clara ensures the library is the beating heart of life underground. But as the war drags on, the women’s determination to remain strong in the face of adversity is tested to the limits when it seems it may come at the price of keeping those closest to them alive.
Based on true events, The Little Wartime Library is a gripping and heart-wrenching page-turner that remembers one of the greatest resistance stories of the war.
Thank you to Anne of Random Things Tours and Hodder & Stoughton for the invitation to join the blog tour to celebrate the paperback publication of The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson, a new author to me.
As an avid reader who grew up borrowing library books and who enjoys historical fiction books, this book ticked so many boxes just from the synopsis. I’m pleased to confirm that this book has shot straight into my top five reads of 2022, and I wish I could award more than 5 stars.
As the synopsis states, the book is based on true events – as many Londoners found themselves living underground during the Second World War, to escape the bombing raids from Germany. The families crowded into their bunks overnight, wondering what they would find when they went back outside in the morning. Sadly the part of the story about people being crushed during to a stampede of panicking people is true – their place of safety became the place of tragedy one evening.
I loved how Clara and Ruby tried to help the Underground residents, providing books to allow them to escape from the anxiety of daily life and educating their children, providing routine and stability. The book is full of colourful characters, some wonderful and some dreadful, some who support the library and some who are determined to limit the use of it.
The book covers domestic violence, death, sexism and grief so isn’t an easy read, but overall the book is an uplifting read and a reminder about the importance of being part of the community and being kind.
I’ve worked with children for 20 years and I’m shocked by how few children have their own books and/or visit a library regularly with a family member. Becoming a competent reader early in life makes school life easier and libraries can play an important part in this. Sadly due to council budget cuts, many libraries have reduced hours. Perhaps each council should be sent a copy of this book to remind the councillors just why libraries are so important.
This is a beautifully written book, looking at friendship and family, community spirit and reading, social history and hopes for the future. I will be gifting copies of The Little Wartime Library to family members for Christmas and I hope to see this on bestseller lists too.
Kate Thompson is an award-winning journalist, ghostwriter and novelist who has spent the past two decades in the UK mass market and book publishing industry. Over the past eight years Kate has written nine fiction and non-fiction titles, three of which have made the Sunday Times top ten bestseller list. The Litte Wartime Library will be her tweflth book.