The Secret Hen House Theatre is a delightful tale of eleven year old Hannah’s struggles to save her family farm, by setting up a theatre in the poultry shed.
It’s an unusual start to a review, but I must simply start with the cover, which is stunning. I’m not usually drawn to books with photographic covers, but with, The Secret Hen House Theatre, Nosy Crow have used the photograph perfectly. The cover photo encapsulates the story beautifully, and with the girl looking outward every reader can imagine that little girls face is actually theirs.
From the first page I felt completely absorbed in the world of Clayhill Farm; Helen’s writing is so strong that the farm seems to emerge from the pages.
“’…around the yard. At the horse ploughs half buried in grass, the collapsed combine harvester rusting in the mud by the pigsties, the old doors, oil stoves and tangled barbed wire heaped up outside the house’
The Secret Hen House Treasure tells the tales of Hannah who at eleven is the oldest of the Roberts children, who live with their father on the tired outdated Clayhill Farm. Between cooking the family meals, scowering jumble-sales for new clothes for her brother, and helping around the farm Hannah has little time to do homework, but Hannah has one refuge her love of theatre.
‘If Dad ever got anything mended, Hannah Thought, he wouldn't have to use his children as fences’
When the new landlord doubles the rent, Hannah soon realises that her father’s plans for raising the money are flimsy at best, and when a fire destroys the barn it looks like they will lose the animal and the farm. But Hannah and her best friend Lottie have a plan, together they write a play, and convert the disused Hen House into a theatre, and entre into the prestigious Linford Arts Festival Youth Theatre Celebration with the admission of winning first prize and the £500 cheque. Hannah’s brothers and sisters soon become part of the troop and the secret theatre begins to flourish, as the fate of the farm worsens.
But when the curtain falls, and the farm is about to be lost its Hannah prescience that saves the day, even it’s not quite the way she planned!
With The Secret Hen House Theatre Helen has produced a book that reads like a classic; it’s timeless, and its subject of family and saving one’s home is relatable to all children. The story is a modern tale, but reads in an almost Enid Blyton way, with children living in a world which is very much outdoors, and with little adult intervention. Like Enid’s books which are still relatable to children today, I believe that The Secret Hen House Theatre will have stuck a cord with its reader whether it was published 40 years ago or not for another 25 years.
Child review by Rebecca Aged 9
The Secret Hen House Theatre is a brilliant book, I loved it. I really liked how problems occur at any time. Hannah and Lottie have really inspired me to write plays of my own. I think it is an amazing book for anyone who likes farms and theatre productions. It's a fantastic book which is really worth reading!
We've got a copy of The Secret Hen House Theatre to give away. To be in with a chance of winning it, e-mail us at SpaceOnTheBookshelf@yahoo.com with your name and address and 'Hen House' in the header.