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The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir: Women on the Homefront

“Perhaps there is something good that has come from this war: everything has been turned around, all the unfairness made grimly plain. It has given us everyday women a voice—dared us to stand up for ourselves, and to stand up for others.” -Jennifer Ryan, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

Inspired by the stories her grandmother told her about life at home during the war, Jennifer Ryan has written with a fresh perspective on the popular topic of World War II. In addition to her grandmother’s stories, Ryan also mentions in The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir’s acknowledgments a little-known wartime organization called Mass Observation, a program that encouraged ordinary people to keep diaries and journals, excerpts of which were then published in a newsletter. These helped Ryan dig into the time period.

Told through letters, diary entries, and town notices, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir transports readers to six months in 1940. In the little village of Chilbury in Kent, England, we meet the women of the choir. Each has a distinct voice and a tale to share. There’s Kitty, the thirteen-year-old who dreams of becoming a singer; there’s her older sister Venetia, the town beauty, who is chased by almost every man but wants only one mysterious artist, just arrived in town; Silvie, a haunted young Jewish evacuee; and Edwina Paltry, the morally dubious midwife. Finally there is Mrs. Tilling, a nurse and central figure in the town, whose only child has just gone to war. All of these women struggle with fear, pain, and heartbreak. They also share their joys and triumphs as they take charge of their lives and happiness.

The audiobook is narrated by a colorful cast of male and female voices with a range of ages and accents that bring the book to life. One more feature you’ll get only by listening: Three songs are included. They are peppered throughout the book. For instance, you’ll listen to Kitty talk about a choir competition, and then you will hear the song itself, an experience unique to the audiobook.

 

Listen to a clip from the book: THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR

 

Learn more about Jennifer Ryan and her inspiration for the book by reading this article she wrote.