Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Enemy at the Gate

This is the other children's novel (along with The Great Chocolate Cake Bake Off) that I've recently re-released under the Pipi Press imprint. 

A deadly disease is sweeping the world and nobody knows how to stop it. Twelve-year-old Tom Mitchell can't even see his best friend Charlie. He wonders when the lockdown is ever going to end. And then things get worse. It might all sound familiar, but this is New Zealand in 1937-38. The disease is infantile paralysis, or polio, and nobody knows where it will strike next. 

When Enemy at the Gate was first published, something strange and unexpected happened. As soon as it was in the shops - or actually sooner; the first time was a conversation I had with one of my children's teachers - people started coming up to me to share their own stories of polio. Almost everyone over a certain age - old enough to remember the 1950s or early 1960s - knew someone who had been affected by polio. Some had even had it themselves. 

Whenever I have taken this book into schools, I have said to the students: in the polio epidemics, schools were closed - do you think that would be fun? There are always a lot of enthusiastic yesses. Then I explain that as well as schools, movie theatres and swimming pools were closed, you couldn't visit your friends' houses - and you still had to do school work! 

This has always felt like describing history - now it's describing their own lives. 

I had already planned to release this title last year, but earlier this year under Level 4 lockdown, I had a number of requests from teachers asking where they could buy a copy. They were keen to use it as a "compare and contrast" text with their students, but I hope it's also seen as a good classroom read. 

Big thanks to my wonderful editor Sue Copsey (who also edited The Telegram) and to designer Cheryl Smith who produced this beautiful cover. I love its unsettling sense of yearning and uncertainty.

Thank also to the invaluable NZ children's lit website The Sapling for this review

You can find Enemy at the Gate in bookstores, including The Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie, Wellington. 


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