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The Children who Lived in a Barn

by Eleanor Graham
Persephone book no:

26 27 28

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A Well Full of Leaves
Regular price £14.00
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ISBN 9781903155196

The Children Who Lived in a Barn was first published in 1938, reissued as a Puffin paperback in 1955 and reprinted numerous times over the next twenty years. 'The plot is simple,' writes bestselling children's author Jacqueline Wilson in her Persephone preface. 'Five brothers and sisters aged from seven to thirteen live in the country with their parents who, four pages in to the book, are called away because a relation is ill; they make no provisions for their children beyond exhorting the elder two to look after everything. There is an aeroplane crash, it seems that they are not coming back and the children, evicted from their house by a wicked landlord, realise they must look after themselves indefinitely. This they manage calmly and sensibly and it is how they manage that is the numb of the book...'

'I found I enjoyed The Children Who Lived in a Barn just as much as an adult reader,' continues Jacqueline Wilson, 'maybe even more because of the curious topsy-turvy attitudes to life and the fascinating period detail. But the book is far more than a curiosity reflecting different times and attitudes. The children leap off the page and into life. They show us how incredibly courageously children can cope in adversity.' 

Jacqueline Wilson adds: 'Back in the fifties the book seemed entirely convincing. Reading it now I'm in my fifties it seems extraordinary... that the Dunnett children in the book were deliberately left on their own... Yet in spite of all her enormous household responsibilities the eldest girl, Sue, experiences a freedom and a sense of achievement not available to most Western teenage girls. She could certainly teach the teenage girls in my books a valuable lesson.'

A starring role in the book is also played by the haybox, which makes a lasting impression on every reader...


'Arrowhead' is a fabric with a fresh, pastoral feel showing leaves and climbing columbines and hollyhocks; it dates from 1938, yet is timeless enough for 1955.

Picture Caption

Original Puffin cover of 'The Children who Lived in a Barn'

Read What Readers Say


In ‘The Children Who Lived in a Barn’, I particularly liked Sue, who faces up to the challenge of being in charge of five children – and of trying to live a normal life, not a Famous Five summer of ginger beer and picnics. Eleanor Graham gives us details in abundance and to me they are all fascinating. The ending is a mad mixture of deus ex machina and jaw-dropping coincidence, but this doesn’t matter too much because its only purpose is to bring about the necessary conclusion. The real strength of the story is not its ending, but its middle – the way the children meet and overcome the challenges of their situation.

Categories: Childhood Country Life Education Family

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