It’s 1943 and young Leo tries to protect his disabled sister Ruby as the Nazis invade Italy. After his mother is arrested, he turns to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty to save them. But he is no ordinary priest. Known as ‘The Pimpernel of the Vatican’, the Monsignor is the legendary organizer of the Rome Escape Line. Soon Leo is helping out with this secret network dedicated to saving the lives of escaped prisoners of war, partisans and Jews. But as the sinister Nazi leader Kappler closes in on the network, can Leo and his sister stay out of his evil clutches?
This is a beautifully written, lively, inspiring children’s story. The opening is wonderful, a quick summary of the events leading up to the Second World War from a twelve-year-old’s point of view. The key figures include Spitler and Muscle-weany. We later get a more official version of events which is very clearly explained, without bogging the young reader down in detail.
Leo is an Irish boy who’s caught in Italy at just the wrong time. His Anglo-American mother has travelled there to learn about educating young people from Maria Montessori. This is particularly important to her as Ruby, Leo’s young sister, suffers from cerebral palsy. As bright as a button, she’s restricted by her physical difficulties. The Nazis are advancing and the Leo’s mother is taken away. Fortunately the children had snuck off for a midnight feast in the barn and so escape capture. Then begins their perilous and arduous journey to Rome to find Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. Leo’s Aunt Delia had told him what to do should he ever find himself in danger. Leo uses his sharp wits, engaging personality and resourcefulness to make the trip safely with his sister. But when he arrives, his work is far from over.
This story is perfect for children, but older readers can enjoy it too. We have two really likeable characters in Leo and Ruby. There’s excitement and humour, mystery and danger to thrill the audience, but not terrify them. Leo finds himself in sticky predicaments but he always finds a way out, and we know he will. It’s just a question of how.
The story is based on real events. Patricia Murphy weaves fact and fiction together in a marvellous way to bring the brave actions of Hugh O’Flaherty to life for us through the fictional Leo. However, as the author says, there were many children who were incredibly brave during the war and this novel is to celebrate them. War brings out the worst in people, but also the best. Loyal, lovable Leo embodies the latter.
Patricia Murphy is the bestselling author of The Easter Rising 1916 – Molly’s Diary and Dan’s Diary – the War of Independence 1920-22 published by Poolbeg.
She has also written the prize-winning “The Chingles” trilogy of children’s Celtic fantasy novels. Patricia is also an award winning Producer/Director of documentaries including Children of Helen House, the BBC series on a children’s hospice and Born to Be Different Channel 4’s flagship series following children born with disabilities. Many of her groundbreaking programmes are about children’s rights and topics such as growing up in care, crime and the criminal justice system. She has also made a number of history programmes including Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson for Channel 4 and has produced and directed films for the Open University.
Patricia grew up in Dublin and is a graduate in English and History from Trinity College Dublin and of Journalism at Dublin City University. She now lives in Oxford with her husband and young daughter.
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