The River Spirit


In The River Spirit, Tom is one of several children working for Master Sweep Mr Crow.  He sends the children up into the smoke, dust and soot encrusted chimneys.  The work is dangerous and many people in Victorian society are campaigning to end the practice.

The children strive to remain cheerful despite their circumstances.  Tom has recently started to see strange visions – fairies in flowers by the river, a soot monster in a chimney and then the mysterious river spirit Elle.  Elle doesn’t speak but observes, she is regarded as a good luck charm by Tom.  However, when Mr Crow sends Tom on a particularly perilous job in an extremely narrow chimney, Tom has a strong sense of foreboding…

Lucy Strange’s super story is strong on atmosphere and historical authenticity.  Inspired by the true story of a young chimney sweep who died on the job, this is a moving and beautiful tale.

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The River Spirit

Lucy Strange, illustrated by Julia Moscardo

(Barrington Stoke)

In The River Spirit, young Tom is a chimney sweep working for cruel Master Sweep Mr Crow.  Tom’s work is dirty and dangerous, sent up narrow chimneys to clean out the toxic dust and soot.  Other children work for Mr Crow and they support each other out of necessity.
Tom has begun to see strange supernatural beings.  By the river bank, Tom believes he has seen fairy creatures and at work a soot monster, hiding in the chimneys.  Finally, he encounters Elle, a mysterious river spirit.  Elle joins Tom and the other children and observes as they carry out their perilous duties.  A policeman has become aware of Mr Crow’s activities and keeps an eye on the children, but he is fobbed off by Mr Crow’s explanations.
Mr Crow tasks Tom with a particularly dangerous job that requires him to climb up inside a very narrow chimney flue.  Tom’s instincts tell him the job is too perilous and he has deep reservations of the task ahead.  Elle looks on and soon the reason for her appearance in Tom’s life becomes clear.
Lucy Strange is fast becoming one of our best writers of historical fiction for children.  Inspired by the real case of George Webster, a 12-year old chimney sweep who died inside a chimney.  His death led to a new campaign calling for the outlawing of child labour.  The River Spirit is a fitting tribute to George and all the young chimney sweeps and child workers.


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