Tilda, by Sue Whiting

Sue Whiting is an award-winning children’s and YA author, editor and former teacher, who has worked in publishing for twenty+ years. She was senior commissioning editor and publishing manager for Walker Books Australia for many years, before leaving in 2016 to concentrate on her writing. Sue has written numerous books for a variety of age groups, from picture books through to YA, including the bestselling Missing, the acclaimed The Book of Chance (both brilliant!) and a number of CBCA Notable Books.

Sue’s latest books are Tilda, which I am reviewing here, and Pearly and Pig and the Lost City of Mu Savan, the second book in her new junior fiction series. I reviewed the first book in this fabulous adventure series here. Sue is passionate about the power of story and is an advocate for reading and writing for pleasure.

Tilda is another wonderful middle-grade book, that will be enjoyed by people across a range of age groups. It is an historical fiction novel for ages 10+ and tells the tale of a girl who refuses to give up on her belief in her papa, who refuses to give up on a happy ending, who refuses to give up on love.

Set in the 1900’s, there is a personal connection for Sue, in the writing of this book. Whilst it’s historical fiction, she has taken inspiration from the life of her grandmother. Her author notes explain more and once you finish the story, you should have a read of the notes, to gain insight into how Sue combined fact with fiction, to create this beautiful tale.

Tilda Moss refuses to believe her papa has abandoned her and left her, alone and orphaned, in Brushwood Convent and Orphanage for Girls, no matter what Sister Agatha says. A promise is a promise and Papa promised he would be back for her as soon as he returns from the war.
But Tilda is convinced the dreadful Sister Agatha is out to get her. Why is she so hateful all the time? She insists that Matilda declare to all at the convent that she is an orphan. She is not an orphan and she will never say it! Something is amiss and Tilda and her best friend Annie need to find out what before it is too late. A story of friendship, hope and determination.

Tilda’s voice is immediately strong and engaging and Sue uses Tilda’s journal entries, and those of her best friend, Annie, to add insight into the inner workings of Tilda’s mind and heart. This also allows the reader to have a more birds eye perspective of the operations of the convent and orphanage, and the ways in which Tilda and Annie work through their difficulties, stick together, and find some hope and light, despite their troubles.

Tilda has a big heart and she is constantly challenged by an unfair system and the terrible Sister Agatha, who it seems, is out to get her, no matter what. Tilda refuses to believe her dear papa would have left her forever. She refuses to agree that she is in fact an orphan. Despite endless punishments and trials piled upon her by Sister Agatha, Tilda shows that she can stand tall and hang onto what she believes.

But can she? When things become too much and everything changes, she loses any shred of power she had in her life and must make decisions that could have far-reaching consequences.

I was riveted to this story. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres to read, write and watch. It was lovely to see an historical fiction story set in my hometown of Adelaide and to know exactly where Tilda was, as she travelled through the different places and events in her life. I laughed and cried along with Tilda and her friends, and was very moved towards the end, but I won’t give any of those things away. You shall simply have to read the book!

Highly recommended for ages 10 – 14 and anyone else who loves an historical fiction story and a main character filled with compassion, heart and determination, even when she thinks that all is lost. The history provided gives insight into Adelaide in the early 1900’s and is a great stepping off point for discussions around what it might have been like to live in an orphanage during those times, as well as discussions about family, friendship, hope, and believing in yourself and each other.

There are some scenes that are upsetting, and for younger children, I would recommend checking in on them to chat about the story and what is happening to Tilda and Annie. Sister Agatha’s cruelty is set against the kindness of other characters, such as Sisters Catherine and Geraldine, and other girls in the orphanage.

More information about this lovely book and where to purchase available at Sue’s website here


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