- Helen Dunmore - Orange Prize winner - Childrens books - Tara''s Tree House - Extract
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Tara's Tree House / Extract
 
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Suddenly the phone rang, and Nan hurried away to answer it. Tara heard Nan’s voice, but she couldn’t hear the words. And then Nan was in the doorway.
‘I’ve got such a surprise for you, Tara,’ Nan said. Her voice was pleased and excited. ‘That was Mr Barenstein on the phone. He says he’s getting too old and too tired to look after the garden. He wants everybody in the house to use it and look after it for him. He says it’s time there were some children playing there.’

Tara couldn’t believe it. ‘Everybody? Does Mr Barenstein mean me as well?’
‘Of course he does,’ said Nan. ‘He knows you’re staying with me, until the baby’s born.’
‘So we can all go in the garden? Me and you and Mr and Mrs Giovanni, and Lisa when she comes to stay?’ Lisa was Mr and Mrs Giovanni’s granddaughter, and she was the same age as Tara.
‘All of us,’ said Nan. ‘That’s what he said.’
‘Nan, let’s go in the garden right this minute!’

The sun shone and the wind blew through the grass and through Tara’s hair. It made Tara want to race all round the garden.
‘Plenty of weeds here,’ said Nan. In one corner there was the tree Tara had always watched from Nan’s window.
‘It’s an old pear-tree,’ Nan said.
The pear-tree was easy to climb. It had no leaves on yet, but it had tight, rolled-up buds.
‘Blossom,’ said Nan, looking up at Tara as she climbed. ‘We’ll have pear-blossom soon, all over this tree.’

Nan walked around the garden, bending down as if she was looking for something. Tara sat on a branch high in the pear-tree, and watched Nan.
‘What are you looking for, Nan?’ she called down.
‘A place for my veg plot,’ said Nan. ‘I’m going to grow
vegetables.’
‘Why do you want to grow veg, Nan?’
Nan came and stood under the pear-tree. Tara climbed down and sat on a branch just by Nan’s head.
‘When I was your age,’ Nan said, ‘I had to leave my home.’
‘Like me,’ said Tara.
‘Yes. But it was for a long, long time.’
Tara thought six weeks was a long time. ‘How long, Nan?’
‘Five years,’ said Nan.

‘Five years!’ Tara nearly fell off the branch. ‘Didn’t your Mum and Dad want you to go home?’
‘Of course they did,’ said Nan, ‘but there was a war on. There were bombs dropping on London. Houses were being blown to pieces. If I’d stayed, I could have been killed. Mum and Dad had to send me away to the country. Thousands and thousands of children were leaving London. Mum cried, but she said, ‘It’s for your own good, Annie. I want to keep you, but you’ve got to go.’ So off I went to a safe place far away from the bombs. I went to a farm in Herefordshire, and Mrs Floyd looked after me there.’

‘Oh,’ said Tara. ‘Did you like it?’
‘I hated it at first,’ said Nan. ‘I cried every night. One night I ran away, but I got lost in a field full of cows, and Mr Floyd brought me back.’
‘Was he cruel to you?’
‘No. They were nice people. But they weren’t Mum and Dad. Still, after a bit I got used to it. I fed the pigs and collected the eggs and picked apples. Mrs Floyd taught me how to milk the cows and how to make butter. I went to school in the village. At first I thought all the children talked funny, but soon I was talking just like them. And then one day I was out in the kitchen garden pulling up carrots and I realised I wasn’t missing Mum and Dad any more. I was happy.’

Tara couldn’t imagine being happy without her Mum and Dad. Not for five whole years. ‘Really happy, Nan?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ said Nan. ‘I loved it all. The calves used to suck my fingers when I fed them, and every spring we’d have a couple of orphan lambs indoors by the stove. We used to give them bottles, like babies. The Floyds never had any children of their own, so they liked having young things in the house. They were good to me. But then, after five years, I had to come back to London.’
‘Why?’
‘The war was over, you see. And you know, Tara, when I came back to London everybody at school laughed at me, because of the way I spoke. I was talking like a country girl by then, you see.’

Tara swung on her branch, and thought. ‘It must have been horrible,’ she said.
‘No. Not horrible,’ said Nan. ‘It was the war. War is a terrible thing, Tara. I was lucky nothing worse happened to me. Plenty of children weren’t so lucky. Look, this is where I’m going to dig my veg plot.’

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Tara's Tree House
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