The Night Garden by Polly Horvath (J)

the night garden

The Night Garden

Polly Horvath (Juvenile Fiction)

Despite the war overseas, life was fairly predictable and peaceful in the spring of 1945 for the family at East Sooke Farm.  Twelve-year-old Franny Whitekraft had her writing; her mother, Thomasina (Sina for short), had her sculpting; and her father, Old Tom, had his gardens—his many, many gardens.  There was the English garden, herb garden, Japanese garden, Italian garden, kitchen garden, statuary garden…but perhaps the most mysterious and closely-guarded garden of all was the night garden.  That garden Old Tom kept locked up nice and tight.  So, days floated by with little fanfare until one day, Crying Alice (that’s Mrs. Alice Madden to you and me) showed up on the Whitekraft doorstep and dropped off her three children: Wilfred, Winifred, and Zebediah.  You see, her husband, Fixing Bob (who does maintenance on the Canadian Air Force’s special plane), is going to do something stupid and she simply has to go and talk some sense into him.  Now, if three new houseguests weren’t enough, just throw in a UFO, ghost, psychic, several mysterious letters, mermaids, and a missing plane and you’ve got a recipe for anything BUT a predictable and peaceful spring.

This is the second book by Polly Horvath that I’ve had the pleasure of reading (the first being The Canning Season) and she continues to amaze and please with her witty dialogue and amusing situations.  Horvath not only entertains her young readers, but she manages to educate them as well.  She’s an English teacher’s dream as she dishes out a veritable smorgasbord of delicious words to savor:  presaged, traversed, bereft, contiguous, compeers, and ilk.  Aren’t they scrumptious?  She also delights us with an assortment of quirky characters that we feel inexplicably drawn to—not in spite of their flaws and rough edges, but because of them.

The Night Garden is a non-stop, heart-thumping thrill ride that will excite and enthrall readers of all ages.  It is a story of family and a love that is blind, slightly deaf, and a little bit thick, but love amongst family is often like that.  The Night Garden also provides us with many valuable lessons—from Miss Macy’s advice on being prepared (“Always wear clean underwear.”) to Franny’s philosophy on self-sacrifice (“Well, we were all put on this earth to suffer.”).  But perhaps it is Old Tom himself who best sums up the greatest lesson of all, “Never, ever, ever have houseguests!”  Old Tom is seldom wrong.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com

 

Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter & Me by Lorilee Craker (Memoir)

anne of green gables my daughter and me

Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter & Me

Lorilee Craker (Adult Memoir)

“What’s an orphan?”  This spontaneous and innocent question from her seven-year old daughter stopped Lorilee Craker in her tracks.  Phoebe had asked it during their bedtime reading of Anne of Green Gables.  But as Craker explains, “The word orphan is six letters fraught with baggage.”  Just like Anne Shirley, Craker herself had been adopted, as was her daughter, Phoebe.  Three women (four if you count Anne’s creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery, who herself was adopted) sharing a bond of abandonment, loneliness, and exclusion, but discovering that just beyond the bend await friendship, joy, love, and a sense of belonging.

Craker describes Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter & Me as “part memoir and part Anne super-fan book”.  For ardent fans of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables’ series (myself included), this book serves as a fond (and perhaps long overdue) reunion with our beloved Anne Shirley, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, Gilbert Blythe, and the rest of our dear friends in Avonlea.  Craker uses excerpts from Anne of Green Gables and Anne of the Island to introduce chapters dealing with friendship, bullying, forgiveness, reconciliation, love, and loss.  Although society’s views on adoption, adoptees, and adoptive parents have changed over the decades, the feelings Anne Shirley experiences at the beginning of the twentieth century remain just as relevant today.  Who can’t relate to feeling not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not tall enough…shall I go on?  Anne Shirley transcends time, region, and language to show that we all long to be accepted, respected, and loved.

Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter & Me is more than just a memoir.  It is a love letter to God, orphans, adoptive parents, Lucy Maud Montgomery, fans, and a little red-headed foundling who is all “spirit, fire, and dew”.  Craker writes, “There is a crack in everyone—that’s how the light gets in.”  A fracture that when the light hits it, allows us to show mercy, offer forgiveness, experience love, and accept grace.  Perhaps in that respect, there is a little orphan in each of us.

Craker reminded me of the thing that I most admire about Anne Shirley and that is her unfailing perseverance and unwavering optimism.  Even after falling off a roof, dyeing her hair green, and inadvertently intoxicating her bosom friend, it’s our Anne (with an “e”) that said, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”  Yes, Anne.  It is very nice.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

 

 

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford (J)

The Incredible Journey

The Incredible Journey    

Sheila Burnford (Juvenile Fiction)

How far would you travel and what would you be willing to endure just to be home again?  Three animals—a Siamese cat, a bull terrier, and a Labrador retriever—travel nearly 300 miles across the Canadian wilderness and battle fatigue, hunger, wild animals, cold, and sickness in order to be reunited with their beloved family again.

Burnford gives us a story of loyalty, inclusivity, diversity, and empathy.  This is not a warm and fuzzy tale of three pets and their charming and delightful antics throughout the frontiers of Canada.  This is a harsh and brutally honest story of survival, death, pain, and endurance.  There is plenty of bone crunching and flesh tearing to remind young readers that this isn’t just another cutesy animal story, but this should not deter them in the slightest from reading this book.  The Incredible Journey is an exquisite story of love and friendship.  Each animal must depend on one another for survival while proving their own unique worth at pivotal parts of the story.

This is one of those rare books that is so captivating, you almost forget (and really don’t miss) the fact that a majority of the story lacks dialogue.  Through Burnford’s adept and masterful storytelling, we understand the language “spoken” between the three companions through their actions, reactions, hisses, and howls.  A flick of the tail or drawing down of the ears convey more emotion and drama under Burnford’s nuanced pen than pages and pages of dialogue ever could.  Serving as a brilliant complement to Burnford’s words are the beautiful and rich illustrations by Carl Burger.  The two combined give readers an emotional, exhilarating, unforgettable, and one incredible journey.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com