It begins with a wind, ‘the sort of burglar wind that plucked litter from bins and petals from flowers and balls from toddlers and anything else it fancied.’ The wind blows a swallowtail butterfly into the path of Binny, reluctantly out shopping for a uniform for her new school. Chasing the butterfly Binny careers into another girl – an accident that will have major repercussions. The next night the wind rips a hole in the roof of the Cornwallises’ cottage, so that the family must decamp to a rented house in the country. That brings exciting adventures for Binny and her little brother ‘Hello, don’t kiss me’ James, and a thrilling rather magical mystery to be unravelled, examined and then kept secret, for safety. The narrative is more linear than the previous book in this series, Binny for Short, but running parallel is a subplot about three children who lived in the house before and during World War One, and we learn that their story is part of the one that holds Binny.
Binny is a wonderful creation, impetuous, stubborn, awkward, generous, an irresistible character. Hilary McKay tells her story with wit, warmth and extraordinary insight and perception. As ever, her depiction of family life is sublime, covering situations and emotions often observed, but rarely so well described. A particularly beautiful paragraph describes an afternoon of ordinary happiness, ‘For the time that it lasted, there was no growing up and no grown away from, no leaving and no left behind, no future and no past. It was perfect sunlit present.’ Reading McKay gives us all entry to those childhood moments of perfect sunlit present.