Gr 4-7-- Interesting characters and strong plotting give this story about an English mining family during the '30s its appeal. Mary's family, including the other three children, frequently go hungry. Her father leaves home to find work and puts his homing pigeons in Mary's charge. Determined to race them, she gets the entrance fees from an uncle, but since this is a man's sport, her mother is not pleased. When Mary's favorite, Speedwell, brings in some prize money, the woman is mollified; still, in order to feed the family, she roasts a few of the birds. Upset and angered, Mary runs away, taking the oldest pigeon with her for comfort. Ultimately, she and her mother are somewhat reconciled and ready for any hard times ahead. The cover painting is not attractive and the book will need promoting. Mary, however, is a feisty girl and the family relationships are realistic. Those who enjoy animal stories will find this to their liking. --Jo-Anne Weinberg, Greenburgh Public Library, NY
Although her mother thinks the time spent raising and training racing pigeons is wasted, 11-year-old Mary and her father take pride in their brood. It helps them to forget the hand-me-down dresses, the unemployment, and the skimpy meals they deal with as an English family caught in the depression of the 1930s. When her father must leave home to find work, Mary is determined to enter her pigeon, Speedwell, in a race in France and bring home the prize money. With the help of Uncle Charley and the unexpected aid of Arnold Revell, an unpopular classmate, Mary dares to reach for her dream. Turnbull realistically portrays the frustration and desperation of poverty (particularly in the scene where Mary's mother kills three of the prize pigeons to feed the family) as well as how it feels to be an outsider and be unable to meet parental expectations--feelings that plague many kids as they grow up. Mary's impulsive actions and spunk make her an appealing protagonist.