Samira Solomon is eleven years old. She lives as an illegal immigrant in modern London with her mother and Robel. Robel is the same man who trafficked the two of them from Eritrea. Samira’s mother speaks very little English. She is under the complete control of Robel. Both Samira and her mother are abused by their criminal companion.
On one of her rare trips out of the home Samira finds and buys a hat decorated with a stuffed green bird. The hat came in a box. In that box she also finds a diary kept by twelve year old Henrietta Waterman in the 1890s. The diary entries reveal that Henrietta is starting to question the norms of that Victorian world. Supported by her beloved Aunt Kitty, Henrietta begins to challenge those values. Reading Henrietta’s brave words, Samira finds comfort and courage. The question posed by Lewis is how the book Samira has found will change the lives of all those concerned.
It is sometimes said that young readers find history boring and uninstructive. This book demonstrates that it need not be so. Lewis achieves a feat which has become increasingly popular in young literature – combining a narrative from a past age with issues all too prevalent in contemporary society, such as trafficking of people. She also shows how some contemporary organisations have their origins in the past. In this case she describes the founding meeting of what was to become the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
This reviewer’s main misgiving about an otherwise outstanding book is that the narratives of some of the characters are developed enough to whet the reader’s appetite but not enough to satisfy that appetite. There are some unfinished portraits.