Luke and Holly Join Forces
By Nick Croydon and Petra Brown
*Note: This book is not currently in print in the US. It can still be ordered from several reliable UK sellers on Amazon, but be aware that it will likely take a couple of weeks to arrive.
This book is part of a series of Hyde Park Squirrels books. It’s targeted at younger kids in the 3-6 age range. The title page sets the scene as follows:
Luke and Holly Bushytail were born in the New Forest, but were separated whilst still babies when their parents, who were very poor, when to America to find work. After promising to send for them when they were settled, no one has heard from them since.
Holly was sent to live with her great-uncle, George MacDonald, who lived in a large house in Hyde Park in the centre of London.
Soon to be reunited, the brother and sister may find their new life together has some unexpected dangers…
The first few pages of the book describe Luke and Holly being reunited. It’s unclear why they were separated in the first place, but both siblings are clearly happy to be together again. Most of the book is set in Hyde Park – which is wonderful place to visit for kids and parents alike. Luke and Holly’s Great-Uncle George is a general in some sort of animal version of a military unit . You’ll immediately recognize the red coats as reminiscent of those worn by England’s famous Queen’s Guards.
The squirrels spend some time dining with Great-Uncle George in his large home. There is definitely an undertone of the British class system as part of the plot here. Luke and Holly came from a poor family, but are gaining a step up in the world through family connections. It’s something that will surely go unnoticed by kids – but for adults it has a Downton Abbey feel to it with Great-Uncle George as Lord Grantham. That dynamic is certainly a very real part of British culture, and so it’s reflection here feels authentic.
Luke joins the Guard to serve under his great-uncle, just as news comes in that there’s a plot brewing across the park. The news is brought in by a fox, and the plot is being planned by some conniving cats and rats. The squirrel siblings quickly alert their great-uncle, the General – and work with him to plan for a defence of the palace (it’s not clear exactly which palace this is, but in England there’s always a palace to defend). What follows is a description of the battle planning and the ensuing conflict with the evil rat army. Both Holly and Luke play a critical role in the fighting – and make Great-Uncle George very proud with their bravery. You’ll be relieved to hear that in the end the good guys win and all is calm in Hyde Park once again!
That this story for young kids centers around a military conflict reflects an interesting aspect of British cultural norms around the discussion of war. After living in London for two years, and sending our kids to pre-school and gradeschool there, we found that it war was relatively commonly referenced in kid’s material. In the US, we are fortunate in many ways that our geographical isolation has spared us from experiencing military conflict at home in the modern era. This is of course not the case in Europe – where war has shaped the politics and culture of every country in a myriad of ways. As a result, it is much more common for war to be spoken of – even with children. And while it is a serious topic overall, it isn’t treated as a secret against which children must be shielded – but is instead presented frequently as a fact of the not-so-distant past that has, among many other things of course, had a profound impact on modern life. You’ll find much of this in the Horrible Histories content as well. [LINK] For Americans, it is a different and interesting perspective to consider.
Parents should be aware though that the book is definitely a light-hearted tale for young kids, so please don’t misunderstand the brief detour into the European treatment of war – and don’t be scared off from sharing this story with your little ones!
The Royal Albert Hall serves as the site of Luke and Holly’s reunion – with an illustration of both the outside and inside of the building. This renowned concert hall was built in 1871 during the reign of Queen Victoria. Albert was Victoria’s husband – who died six years prior to the opening of the Hall. You’ll find references to Victoria and Albert all over London – and much of the commentary about them focuses on their deep admiration and love for each other – something that apparently wasn’t particularly common among royal couples! The V&A museum, Royal Albert hall, and the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace are a few of the many reminders of their legacy.
Victoria was born and grew up in Kensington Palace – which now serves as the London home for the Will and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Kensington Palace is located in the northwest corner of Hyde Park. It is open for visitors, and offers much in the way of history about Queen Victoria. As with many of the London landmarks, they do a good job of making the tour interesting to kids with scavenger hunts and audio guides. Will and Kate’s residence is modestly known as “Apartment 1A” – and unfortunately it’s not open for tours.
Hyde Park is the center of the story – and it is also in many ways the center of London. Just north of Buckingham Palace, Hyde park is the largest green space in a city with an abundance of parks, playgrounds and squares. Much like Central Park in New York, Hyde Park has a wide variety of spaces used for a variety of activities, including casual sports (soccer mostly, with the occasional cricket match), walking and hiking, biking (on London’s ubiquitous rental bikes), as well as boating and swimming in the lakes and pond. Special events are also often held in Hyde Park – such as summer music festivals, or Winter Wonderland village around Christmastime. You may hear the rental bikes referred to by the locals as “Boris Bikes”. This is a reference to the colorful mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who advocated for London to become one of the first major cities to offer rental bikes. These have since become common in most European cities, and recently many American cities as well. Hyde Park is one of the few relatively safe (car-free) places for a tourist to try out cycling in London. However tourists are notoriously careless on these bikes – so if you try it out be careful! Though the seats are adjustable, the bikes are too big for kids.
The Serpentine, a long and winding lake in the center of Hyde Park is the scene of the critical battle. Usually a much more peaceful location in real life – the Serpentine is a great place for parents and kids alike. Paddle boats are available for rental, and hungry ducks are eager to accept breadcrumbs from children walking along the shore. In the summer, many people also swim in the Serpentine which you may hear locals refer to as a “lido”, or public pool. In our experience, the weather in London rarely lends itself to outdoor swimming – but if you happen to be lucky enough to be there when it does, then by all means take advantage of it!