On the advent of the twentieth anniversary of the Branford Boase award, Walker Books have brought out a new edition of Fire Bed & Bone by Henrietta Branford, for which she won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of this book and read it.
I won the Branford Boase award in 2017, but all I knew about Henrietta Branford was that she was a talented writer who had tragically died early in her career. I had not read any of her books.
Fire, Bed & Bone is unlike any historical children’s book I have read. Set in 1381, it tells the story of the Peasant’s Revolt through the eyes of a loyal dog, whose master Rufus is a peasant supporting the revolt. Compelling reading, this book powerfully evokes a brutal time, staging the conflict between the peasants and the landowners in a vivid and easily imagined way. I was gripped as soon as I opened the book and I didn’t stop reading until the last page. The story is gritty and horribly exciting with truly shocking moments. The dogs are invested with a truth and mysticism which highlights the crass nature of the humans. I can see why Henrietta Branford was heralded as a fresh, exciting and important voice when this book was first published, and despite the passing of twenty years, she remains so.
I heartily recommend this book to teachers engaging with the topic of the peasants revolt or the middle ages. It is a short, dramatic read that children will be immediately invested in, but be aware that the subject is violent and there are scenes that will upset some, so do read ahead.
Anyone out there who loves a good read, enjoys historical fiction, or wants an advanced class is narrative voice should read this book.
When I closed the book I was overcome with the feeling that if Henrietta Branford had had more time to spin stories, the world of children’s fiction would have been richer for it.