As I finished this blog, I just realized that all three protagonists in these stories are orphans. How appropro for the month of July 😦 They’re also all classified as “children’s” or “juvenile” fiction, which is interesting.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (new read)
This is one of those books that I’d heard of at a young age, but never knew anything about. The introduction was written by an author who first read it as an adult and said she wished she had done so as young girl because it would have been life changing for her. I didn’t have such a strong reaction, but I can understand the sentiment.
16 year old Kit arrives to her aunt and uncle’s house in Connecticut after leaving Barbados when her Grandfather dies. Their 17th century Puritan community is much different than the freewheeling lifestyle she left behind and her uncle doesn’t approve of the influence she has on her teenage cousins. She also befriends Hannah, who is declared a “witch” by most of the town, but Kit feels she is just misunderstood.
Kit has a lot of fire and passion, and wants to do her own thing. That could definitely be inspiring to young girls making their way through the perils of teenagedom.
VERDICT: This was a departure from many of the books I’ve read lately. The time period of the story is underrepresented in general and it’s rare to see a heroine with such a mind of her own from then as well. For those reasons, I’d keep this book on the list.
Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay (new read)
The first word that pops into my mind after reading this book is “heartwarming.” I never heard of the story or its author before, but I’m glad I did!
Saffy is a member of the Casson family, with three other siblings: Caddy, Indigo and Rose. Her parents are both artists, with her father working mostly out of town in London. One day, Saffy (short for Saffron) realizes her name is the only one not on the paint chart hanging in their kitchen. She then discovers that she had actually been adopted by her aunt and uncle after her parents died. Soon after, her grandfather passes away and leaves her an “angel,” whose identity is unknown. We then see Saffy on her journey of self-discovery as she searches for her angel.
I think a lot of kids (and adults) would be able to relate to this story in some way. Even if you’re not adopted, wondering how you fit into any type of group is a common issue we all deal with at some point of our lives.
I was impressed at how well McKay was able to flesh out so many characters in such a short novel. Each of the children have distinct personalities that shine through, even though the main focus is on Saffy. I saw that there are several other books featuring this family, so that might be part of the reason.
VERDICT: I don’t know if this is one of the best books of all time, but it was definitely a sweet and enjoyable story. It’s a toss up for me!
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (new read)
This next read came with a lot of hype. I remember when it won the Caldecott Medal and how shocking it was, since most winners are short picture books and this novel clocks in at over 500 pages!
I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a unique mix of text and illustration. The story itself was interesting. It contains a real historical figure, that of filmmaker Georges Melies, and many of the details are true, although the other characters are fictional. It takes place in Paris in the 1930s. Most of the action is in a train station, where Hugo lives and takes care of the clocks after his father passes away. It’s categorized as a “historical fiction steampunk” novel.
I really don’t want to say too much more about the plot because part of the fun for me was knowing very little about it before reading and being intrigued at every turn. This is a widely lauded story for good reason– any age would appreciate it!
VERDICT: I thoroughly enjoyed this story and agree with its inclusion as one of the best. It was an enjoyable and suspenseful read.
**I watched the movie this morning and was underwhelmed. Some of the action went by really fast in the movie, that would take pages of illustrations in the book. The reader can control the pace. It also appears that a couple of characters were completely eliminated. I think they could have done more. You can skip this one!**