Cover image for The kingdom by the sea
The kingdom by the sea
Westall, Robert.
Personal Author:
Aerial edition.
Publication Information:
[New York] : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1993.

Physical Description:
175 pages ; 18 cm
During World War II twelve-year-old Harry and a stray dog travel through war-torn England in search of safety.
Reading Level:
680 Lexile.
Program Information:
Reading Counts RC High School 6.3 9 Quiz: 06524 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Mass Market Paperback Young Adult

On Order



During World War II twelve-year-old Harry and a stray dog travel through war-torn England in search of safety.

Author Notes

Author Robert Westall was born in Tynemouth, England on October 7, 1929. He grew up during World War II and his childhood experiences inspired much of his work. He studied Fine Art at Durham University and Sculpture at the Slade School of Art in London. Before becoming a full-time author in 1985, he worked as an art teacher. His first novel, The Machine Gunners, was published in 1975 and won the Carnegie Medal. Some of his other awards include The Carnegie Medal in 1982 for The Scarecrows, the Smarties Prize in 1989 for Blitzcat, and the Guardian Award in 1991 for The Kingdom by the Sea. He died on April 15, 1993.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 6-9. Westall remembers what it was like to be in an air raid. He mines his rich World War II experience for this survival adventure story about 12-year-old Harry trying to make it on his own along the northern English coast after his family home is bombed. As he did in his award-winning The Machine Gunners [BKL N 1 76], Westall evokes the thrilling excitement that comes with danger. He's honest about the tears and lies and about the violence Harry finds in himself as he fights off individuals and gangs who threaten his safety. Harry also makes friends on his journey, especially with an abandoned dog, and also with a succession of beautifully individualized soldiers and civilians, solitaries and eccentrics, who help him and need him. Only one character is stereotyped: the prissy, snarling officer pervert who tries to seduce Harry is like a cartoon monster. Otherwise, we are drawn into Harry's brave pilgrimage to self-reliance, as he battles the human and natural world, even the ocean, to reach his kingdom by the sea. Yet Westall doesn't stop there: the breathtaking surprise ending has a brutal truth that subverts the picaresque genre and disturbs all those comfortable cliches about coming home. ~--Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Harry is safe in the backyard shelter when German bombs flatten his family's house. Numb and disoriented, he evades the authorities and makes his way to the beach, where he is befriended by Don, a stray dog. Together the boy and his new companion leave town and travel up the coast toward the holy island of Lindisfarne. Along the way the pair comes in contact with several remarkably kind people, some equally cruel ones and a few genuine eccentrics. At odds with the otherwise genial storytelling are scenes in which a sadistic homosexual corporal attempts to molest Harry. Here the author perpetuates an ugly, misguided stereotype by implying that the corporal's brutal behavior is part and parcel of his sexual preference. This flaw aside, much of the novel pleasantly blends the period details and high adventure typical of Westall's other World War II novels. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-9-- A riveting story of a boy's struggle to survive after the loss of his family in World War II. Harry, 12, accompanied by a dog he finds, must provide for the two of them while avoiding the authorities who will certainly turn him over to his dreaded Cousin Elsie. On his travels, he meets physical and emotional challenges with growing confidence based on innate resourcefulness and sensitivity. The novel is sparely written but rich in details of time and place and especially in character. Even minor characters are vividly depicted. Adult concerns Harry must contend with (the death-dealing destructiveness of war, potential child molestation) are handled appropriately for young readers. The plot is engrossing, studded both with moments of drama and action, and quieter, more reflective scenes. Sights, sounds, smells, and emotions are all revealed with clarity and honesty. British terms and occasional dialect are discernible in context. The one real flaw in an otherwise superior novel is the resolution, which takes an unfortunate change of direction without preparing readers, a change that seriously undermines the magic of what has gone before. It also seems gravely unfair to Harry, who has undergone so much and matured so greatly. This concern aside, Kingdom would be an excellent selection for private enjoyment, for reading aloud, as a supplement to units on war, or as a discussion starter on the human capacity to survive extreme adversity. --Barbara Hutcheson, Greater Victoria Public Library, B.C., Canada (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.