Children, Fantasy, Young Adult

The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill

I know a book is excellent if its effects are still lingering days after I’ve finishing it. Few have accomplished this as much as The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill. Is it for kids? Yes. Is it for young adults? Yes. Is it for grownups? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes. It’s for everyone. If I could buy up a bunch of copies and pass them out on a street corner without looking like a weirdo, I would.

There is the Ogress. She has no name. She has no family. She has no friends. She cannot read. She has a great desire to belong. She has magical talents that benefit others and, even in her loneliness, she is compassionate and generous.

There are the Orphans. They have names that follow the letters of the alphabet. They are cared for by the Matron and her husband, Myron. They read and research. They closely observe. They are each other’s family.

There is the town, Stone-in-the-Glen. Once a lovely place where neighbor helped neighbor, it is now rundown and full of unhappy, suspicious people. Legend says it all began when a dragon burned down the library. Now the only bright spot is the colorful Mayor. He loves all and all love him.

What makes this book so special? What makes it a treasure for readers of any age? It is so layered with important messages that everyone will glean something from it. The writing is magnificent. The characters will remind you of someone you know.

Read it. Share it. Learn from it. Remember it. It’s marvelous!

10/10 Stars

Black History, Children, History, Nonfiction, Poetry, Young Adult

A Wreath for Emmett Till, by Marilyn Nelson


This country we love has a Janus face: one mouth speaks with a forked tongue, the other reads the Constitution.

Let us first define what a Janus face is: cb922372af7ff4692a4ccfe77b79d2bbAmong other things, Janus was the Roman god of duality. And while America represents the Land of the Free for some, it is still a land of hypocrisy, fear, and double standards for many. The last couple of weeks have been a painful, shameful reminder of this.

I happened upon the poetic prose of Marilyn Nelson completely by accident this morning on my local digital library site. I was quickly intrigued by her beautifully expressed story of Emmett Till. For those unaware, Emmett Till was a 14 year old black boy who was lynched and murdered in 1955 for whistling at a white woman. His killers were never brought to justice. His mother, Mamie, who lost her husband 10 years before in a controversial hanging, courageously displayed her young son’s mutilated body in an open casket at his funeral. If the law would not prosecute those responsible, she would do it in her own way.

In this sonnet, A Wreath for Emmett Till, award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson speaks for the young man who could not speak for himself and for his brave mother, thrust into the spotlight after his killing. Everything is said with sorrow, with love, and with heart-felt apology. I can hardly do it justice:

Screen Shot 2020-06-10 at 9.32.58 AM

Nelson’s style lends a power that makes mere storytelling inadequate. While probably targeted for young readers, teens and adults will also appreciate this quiet treasure. And, although a quick read, the message lingers long after that we, as humans, still have a long way to go.

9.5 Stars


Children, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster


I suppose that in today’s world, a story where a rich, older man anonymously sponsors an orphaned girl’s schooling while also orchestrating in-person meetings would seem, well, creepy. And if you watch the movie with Fred Astaire as Jervis Pendleton and Leslie Caron as little Judy there is a great age gap–about 30 years– between them, cute as the movie may be. But, as expected, the book is different.

First of all, it is all set in America, not France. Second of all, in the book it is easier to imagine about a 10-15 year age gap between them. This is more acceptable. The film immediately reveals that Daddy-Long-Legs and Jervis Pendleton are one and the same. The book does not, but it’s fairly obvious to the perceptive reader. It’s a spoiler that does not really spoil, although one does wonder how this man who is so sweet to young Judy in person can let her toil and wonder why her sponsor never writes back, allowing her to wallow in confusion for 3 years. That is a bit more unacceptable.

It’s an odd story, one that could only be told at a time when the role of women was to be demure and subservient. The book is comprised entirely of Judy’s letters to her sponsor, always a risky tactic, but here it seems to work. The letters are detailed enough to help the reader forget that they are only reading letters. We see a range of emotions from the young orphan, plus cute little sketches, and even some back-pedaling as she feels one thing one day (usually frustration with the one-sided relationship) and retracts it with regret the next.

The part I find most perplexing is the reader demographic for this story, which I can only assume is a teenage girl, an age peer of Judy’s, at the time it was written in 1912. Again, a very different time for women, still eight years away from the 19th Amendment. At one point Judy asks “are women even citizens?” (Jean Webster, the author, was a great supporter of women’s suffrage.)

So, if you keep in mind the context of the time period this book was published, it is easier not to judge it too harshly and see it as just a sweet, unusual story.

8/10 Stars

Aside from the full-length 1955 American movie, there are many Japanese anime versions of Daddy-Long-Legs. You can find them on YouTube. I came across this short, 12-min bedtime story version, which actually helped me enjoy the book more. Available HERE on Amazon Prime.

Children, Fiction

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud Not Buddy cover.jpg

This is a book I discovered completely by accident. It was featured on the homepage of my local online library during Black History Month. I was attracted to its Newbery award winning status and its many stellar reviews.

Bud (not Buddy) is an only child with an absent father and a recently deceased mother. He’s currently “in the system,” being bounced from one foster home to another. He longs for a real family and, deep down, he knows there is one waiting for him.

The story seesaws between touching moments as Bud (not Buddy) pieces together clues to find the man he thinks is his father and hilarious moments in his transient, fractured life. Aimed at children, the balance of these two characteristics is just enough to keep a young person’s attention. It certainly captivated mine. Bud (not Buddy) is extremely likable and polite, you root for him the entire time, always hoping that he’ll find the family he seeks.

I was very happy to have found this book. If I was still teaching elementary school (which I did for 13 years until my marriage in 2010,) I would definitely purchase this for our classroom library and read it aloud during group storytime. There are plenty of things to discuss with young students. However, since I do not currently have my own classroom, I shared this book by sending it, along with Farmer Boy, to California as birthday presents for my 12-year old nephew. We do what we can.

8.5/10 Stars


Children, Historical Fiction, Nonfiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Frmer Boy cover.jpg

As a child I was given the entire Little House on the Prairie book series. It was, after all, the late 70’s, and the TV show was a local favorite. I read a few of the books, some of them several times, but Farmer Boy always stayed in my blind spot. In some ways I’m glad it did. I’m a big believer that books come into our lives at the right time when we can fully appreciate them and, apparently, Farmer Boy needed to be appreciated in my late 40’s.

This is a stand-alone book from the rest of the Little House series, one that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about one significant year in the life of her beloved husband, Almanzo Wilder. Almanzo has just turned nine years old. He has an older brother and older sisters. Poor Almanzo feels what so many children feel when they’re the youngest, always left behind and never given the responsibilities that the older ones are given.

The book is both entertaining and poignant. The way the siblings handle their freedom when their parents leave them alone for a week is hilarious. But the majority of the book is from Almanzo’s point of view as he observes his father work around the farm and train horses, a particular talent his son greatly admires. And, like the Sarah, Plain and Tall series, the reader sees how children were put to work at a young age, never in an abuse manner, but given chores appropriate for their age. Everyone needed to pitch to keep a farm running and most children of farmers grew up to be farmers themselves.

There is a wonderful documentary on Amazon Prime Video called Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura. It was this documentary that prompted me to read the book, despite not being in the age group of its target audience. I recommend both the documentary and the book.

9.5/10 Stars

Children, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Sarah, Plain and Tall Series, by Patricia MacLachlan

Sarah Plain and Tall series covers.jpg

If you’re a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, then you will be just as charmed by Sarah, Plain and Tall, Skylark, Caleb’s Story, More Perfect Than the Moon, and Grandfather’s Dance.

And, if you know about President Abraham Lincoln’s early childhood, the premise of these books will sound familiar too: a widowed man with two children marries again, the new wife becomes a beloved member of the family and positively influences them for years to come. (In fact, Lincoln’s sister, stepmother, and stepsister were all named Sarah.)

All five of these books are short, but very enjoyable. I was amazed that they weren’t all one multi-chaptered book. But I reveled in their descriptions of a simpler time when families spent so much time together making their farms a success and just enjoying each other’s company. Children learned the value of work much earlier than today and parents were parents. Less focus was placed on material possessions. The days and months had a rhythm to them that followed the harvests and seasons. Hardships, usually due to inclement weather, were plentiful, and families had to adapt in different ways.

This series is both pleasant and powerful in its capturing of the time period.

9/10 Stars


Children, Nonfiction, Young Adult

The Wild Book, by Margarita Engle


It is the early 1900s in Cuba. Fefa (short for Josefa) lives on a tropical farm with her parents and many brothers and sisters. She is somewhere in the middle. She feels it too—being somewhere in the middle. Too young to be the teasing older sister, too old to be the indulged baby. And now she must endure the stigma and frustration of “word blindness”—an outdated term for dyslexia. The local doctor, lacking any sensitivity, has stamped that label on her and she can feel it as strongly as if it was scribbled across her forehead. Giving her reading struggles a name does not make them go away.

Meanwhile, dangers are everywhere. Alligator-like caimans lurk in the tall grasses. Bandits hide behind trees waiting to steal cattle. Kidnappers threaten to steal children at high ransoms. Her parents conceal their worries from the family, but Fefa can read the concern on their faces. Words on a page are challenges, but she isn’t blind to her troubled surroundings. She’s an old soul. A worried old soul.

Her mother gives Fefa a blank book to practice her words, “her wild book.” She carefully writes her observations. The empty pages give her freedom but words do not come easily. She reads them back slowly….syl…la…ble…by…syl…la…ble. The farm manager writes a poem in her book. She looks at him with mistrust, but doesn’t know why. A feeling.

Each sentence is brief. Each thought is powerful.

The Wild Book is beautiful! I found it by accident on our online library site, started it last night, and finished it this morning. It is told in poetic prose through the eyes and ears of Fefa. It yearns to be read out loud to fully display its cadence and vivid imagery. (“Manatees on the beach lounging like chubby mermaids.” What a great sentence!)

Every two pages is a new chapter—a new poem—moving the story forward and exploring the depths of Fefa’s troubled heart. Yet the ending is triumphant. Even better, it is the true story of the author’s grandmother.

This is a book I wish I’d had in my elementary school class library! Younger students will appreciate the rhythm. Older students will recognize its depth. This is a special book that appears deceptively simple, but possesses many layers, just like its young heroine.

Parents, read it to your children. They will have new appreciation for the safety they enjoy.

10/10 Stars

Children, Nonfiction, Young Adult

The Secret of Willow Ridge, by Helen H. Moore


If you Google The Secret of Willow Ridge, you will find it available as a free PDF file. The reason for this is because it’s not a children’s mystery book, as the title implies, but a book for children of addicts. The teacher in me was intrigued and I was curious to read it.

Addiction is an isolating disease, both for the spouse and children of the addict. That isolation is the “secret” of Willow Ridge.

Gabe is our eyes and ears in the story. His dad, Jack, is the addict. Jack’s addiction is all Gabe has known in his short life. For him, the word “addict” doesn’t exist until it is explained. In the meantime, his dad’s mood swings, inability to keep a job, and talent for putting new dents in the family car are only a source of embarrassment.

Like any child, Gabe wants two things: a family that functions like the other families he observes and acceptance from his peers. His dad’s addiction has prevented this for years. While Gabe might seem a bit critical in his judgements about his parents, especially his dad, it’s clearly a defense mechanism. This is a child in pain.

Fortunately, the trip to the recovery center happens very early in the story.

The great thing The Secret of Willow Ridge does for young readers who suffer in families such as Gabe’s is it gives them hope–hope that things can change for the better. It also helps to explain addiction in a way a child understands and remove the stigma attached.

This is probably not a book I would put on my classroom shelf, but it is a book I would recommend. If I had a student like Gabe, it could be helpful. Addiction and recovery are covered well, but not glossed over as something easily overcome. As victims of addiction get younger and younger, a book like The Secret of Willow Ridge is necessary.

9/10 Stars

Biography, Children, History, Nonfiction, Young Adult

Terrible Typhoid Mary, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

bartoletti-terrible-typhoid-maryWhen I was an elementary school student in Southern California and discovering for myself which books I enjoyed, I often gravitated towards biographies. Some of my favorites were biographies on Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan, Harry Houdini, and Harriet Tubman. I still remember the covers of each of those books, all of which were worn with use. (In fact, the Helen Keller biography still sits in the bookcase next to me, as do many other childhood favorites.)

I mention this because I know that Terrible Typhoid Mary, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, would’ve been added to the group. It’s exactly the kind of biography I would’ve read again and again. Not only is it a fascinating true story, but it’s also extremely thorough, and written so well that everyone involved is brought to life. The reader is immersed in colorful descriptions and an interesting cast of characters, who just happen to be real people. (Dr. S. Josephine Baker, one of the first female doctors in the United States, is also prominently featured.) We can just imagine the increasing rage building on Mary Mallon‘s face when Health Department employee, George Soper, finally tracked her down and tried to explain that she was a carrier of Typhoid and was making others ill. We can also imagine the scene where she chased him–and others after him–out of her kitchen with knives and a few choice words.

Mary Mallon’s story is captivating for many reasons and the author covers them all. As the first “healthy carrier” discovered (but not the last,) many important human rights issues are brought to the surface. Did the government have the right to arrest and quarantine Mary when, technically, she had not broken any laws? Did it have the right to insist that Mary give samples of her blood and bodily waste? Were Mary’s stubbornness and violent temper the reasons she was singled out and forced into decades of isolation? Could her situation have been avoided?

The historical period of this real-life drama created other dilemmas. There were hoards of new immigrants flooding into New York City at the time. Sanitation was becoming more of a challenge as population increased. Indoor plumbing, daily baths, and sewers were not yet the norm. The idea that microscopic germs cause disease was also extremely new. (Vaccinations were even newer.) Germ theory was a difficult concept to explain and a source of skepticism among the masses.  And Mary Mallon, a proud, hard-working Irish immigrant who worked her way up the domestic ladder to become a cook for elite families, refused to hear that she wasn’t clean and that she had infected the households who ate her meals. But where do her rights begin and end? Doesn’t the Health Department have a responsibility to stop the spread of disease and prevent an epidemic?

Adults, young adults, and elementary school children will enjoy Terrible Typhoid Mary. It’s the perfect marriage of writer and subject. Teachers and home-school parents will also appreciate the author’s comprehensive bibliography, a terrific example of citing primary and secondary sources that could even be used in a separate lesson. As a biography for school-age readers, this one is as good as it gets.

A well-deserved 10/10 Stars

Children, Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick


We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

–Oscar Wilde, from Lady Windemere’s Fan

Two of our deepest longings in life, whether we acknowledge them or not, is (1) to be connected to someone or something in a world where it is too easy to feel adrift and (2) to be heard and validated through some means of communication.

Then there is the subject of communication. How do people communicate? Through a specific language, either written or spoken using an alphabet or gestures, like American Sign Language. There’s also Morse Code, Braille, semaphores, hieroglyphics, and many others. Humans have a great need and desire to communicate with one another and have, therefore, created many ways to do so. To be unable to communicate is to be isolated, even in a room full of people.

Enter the two main characters in Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, Rose in 1927’s Hoboken, New Jersey, and Ben in 1977’s Gunflint, Michigan. Two twelve year olds in different cities, fifty years apart. How are they connected?

The way Brian Selznick achieves this is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Ben’s story is told through the written word. Rose’s story is told through incredibly impressive and expressive pencil drawings done by the author. The drawings leave no room for misinterpretation.

Despite their differences, both children are on a similar journey with similar challenges. Both are trying desperately to fulfill those longings for connection and communication. The pacing is excellently done using the different modes of storytelling. So excellent, in fact, that the reader is aware of the overlap in the children’s stories as it’s happening (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here.) And, while the story feels like a fantasy, there’s still a sense of it could happen.

There is a lot of potential discussion to be facilitated between teachers and students using Wonderstruck as its source. I think it would work successfully in both a classroom or a home-school setting. Amazon Prime just released the movie version a few days ago, but I believe the movie works better as an addendum to the book. There is a sweetness unique to the book that is lacking in the movie, as well as a layer of truthfulness regarding Ben, because only in the book do we hear his inner dialogue. But I will say the young actress who plays Rose in the movie is mesmerizing to watch.

Overall, I recommend Wonderstruck with confidence. I was even more impressed when I read about the amount of research Brian Selznick employed in its creation. It is an award-winning middle school book, but I think it would be entirely appropriate for younger, emotionally mature children. If a parent or teacher has specific questions before sharing it with school-aged children, please feel free to contact me or leave your question in the comments. I will answer it promptly.

9.5/10 Stars

P.S. A 55-page summary and study guide of Wonderstruck is also available on Amazon, but I have not read it.


Children, History, Memoir, Nonfiction, Young Adult

Yellow Star, by Jennifer Roy


The Holocaust.

It is one of the most grim events in recent world history. Families are still affected today by lives lost and relatives gone missing.

It is also an event with amazing stories. True stories. Stories that exemplify faith, determination, and strength.

In 2006, author Jennifer Roy endeavored to pen her Aunt Sylvia’s childhood experiences of living in a Polish ghetto during World War II. The “ghetto” was a crowded Jewish internment camp. A neighborhood with barbed wire around it as a way to contain the people Hitler saw as the “problem.” His “final solution” would come later, of course, in the form of concentration camps.

Miraculously, Sylvia (an American modernization of Syvia,) spent the entire war in a ghetto and was one of only 12 surviving children out of thousands. The others became sad, anonymous statistics.

Jennifer Roy is very truthful about her challenges in relating the story. How should she tell it? A narrative? In third person? After trying other methods unsuccessfully, she decides to tell it in Sylvia’s voice, a combination of an old woman’s memories and the simple, but profound, observations of a child.

What emerges are short chapters and efficient language that sound like young Syvia commenting on her changing world. She tries to make sense of things that are senseless.

Why a yellow star? Yellow is supposed to be a happy color.

Bright colors don’t exist in the ghetto, except for the yellow stars and puddles of red blood we carefully step around. “More shootings,” Papa says quietly. His face is gray.

What happened to my friend? She was here yesterday…

Hava is missing. She went for a short walk on the street and never came back. Gone, missing, vanished.

From the ages of 5 to 10, the ghetto, and all that went with it, was Syvia’s world.

It is a child’s honest interpretation of starvation, cold, fear, death, and the unknown. She is acutely aware of her surroundings and the sacrifices her parents make to ease her suffering and keep her safe. “Safe” equals “alive.”

This book would be an excellent teaching tool when discussing the Holocaust, a subject that is quickly disappearing from students’ knowledge of history. Parents should read it with their children. Teachers should read it to their pupils. It is clear in its statement of the times without being overtly frightening. The childhood version of Syvia is relatable and sincere, with that strong sense of fairness that exists in all young people.

Highly, highly recommended.

9.5/10 Stars

Children, Fantasy, Fiction

The Would-Be Witch, by Ruth Chew

the-would-be-witchBefore there was J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series, there was prolific author Ruth Chew (1920-2010.) She was one of my favorite writers when I was a child and The Wishing Tree was a book I reread many times. Recently I came across another book she wrote called The Would-Be Witch and it is delightful.

Her style is much simpler than Rowling’s and her magical worlds are very innocent. Each book she wrote stands alone and offers a fun escape for its reader, showing unique glimpses of what this world would be like if witches and real magic existed.  Her protagonists are always ordinary children who stumble upon an enchanted object or meet an interesting woman who is a little “different.” The charming pencil sketches in her books are also hers. There is nothing dark or graphic about her books.

In The Would-Be Witch, siblings Robin and Andy Gates find a clumsy white cat who belongs to a shop owner named Zelda. While watching Zelda’s shop one afternoon, the children start speculating about the eccentric lady and her odd clothing. Meanwhile, their mother has just purchased some “magic” polish, said to work wonders on any surface from wood to plastic, and the adventure begins.

The time period is general, and could take place anytime from the early 1900’s to present day. The children mind their parents and are responsible young people. It is all told in an uncomplicated narrative with interesting twists and turns and a satisfying ending.

If the fantasy world of magic is something your young child is interested in, and the Harry Potter series is too advanced, I highly recommend The Would-Be Witch, The Wishing Tree, or anything by Ruth Chew. Her official page is HERE, and books that were out of print for years are now becoming available again in libraries and in digital form.

Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 3, (The Unseen Guest,) by Maryrose Wood

unseen2In this installation of the Incorrigible Children series, we meet Lord Fredrick’s mother, the Widow Ashton.  She arrives with little notice–sending Lady Constance into a state of frenzy–accompanied by Admiral Faucet (pronounced Faw-say,) her gentleman friend who hopes to marry her.

The 3 Incorrigible Children still maintain some of their wolf-ish qualities, obtained from having been raised by them, but are making great strides in English speech and manners.  Admiral Faucet, however, dwells only on their ability to track things in the forest and, when his imported African ostrich, Bertha, goes missing, he invites the siblings and their governess on a mini safari to find her in the surrounding forest.  When Penelope and the children become separated from the admiral (whose intentions for the ostrich and the Incorrigibles are quite sinister,) they encounter a cave that only deepens the mystery of the children’s upbringing.

As with the first 2 books, this is a unique story with many twists and turns.  Although told in the 3rd person, it is mostly from Penelope’s viewpoint.  The language is charming and conversational with the reader, reminding me more and more of Roald Dahl’s style (my favorite author.)

By the 3rd book, however, I was ready for some of the questions about the children’s and Penelope’s backgrounds to be answered.  Instead of answers, there were only more questions.  Clearly, Penelope and the children are connected in a way more than a governess is to her charges.  And, clearly, Lord Fredrick has a secret that is becoming increasingly difficult to keep.

The story-lines with the supporting characters did wrap up satisfactorily, setting the stage for a new adventure in Book 4, which debuts on December 17th.  Like other readers, I will just have to be patient.

8.5 out of 10 stars

Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 2 (The Hidden Gallery,) by Maryrose Wood


“Navigation, you see, is not just a problem for sailors.  Everyone must go adventuring sooner or later, yet finding one’s way home is not easy. Just like the North Star and all it’s whirling, starry brethren, a person’s idea of where “home” is remains in perpetual motion, one’s whole life long.”

–Page 311, The Hidden Gallery

Shall I mention again how much I am enjoying the series The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place?

Book 2, The Hidden Gallery, takes young governess Penelope Lumley and her 3 charges to London. She has received a letter from her former headmistress and an invitation to meet in the city. When Lady Ashton of Ashton Place becomes aware of this, she decides to pack up the entire household and rent a home in London so they can all go. While Lady Ashton cares only about nurturing her social connections, Penelope becomes involved in a series of odd coincidences that raise more and more questions about her background and the origin of The Incorrigibles (Lord Ashton’s name for the wolf-raised brood.)

Once again, author Maryrose Wood writes her gothic tale in a way that is both effortless and charming. Even as an adult, I felt like I was sitting at the knee of a great storyteller, completely engrossed in the characters and the action.

Three themes emerge continuously throughout the book: navigation, the moon, and home. Some of the mysteries in Book 1 become a little clearer if you can read between the lines and unravel the clues, but there are plenty of new questions which are not resolved by the end. It doesn’t matter, the ending is satisfying enough to make you let out a temporary sigh before wanting to delve into Book 3. I’m hooked.

9.5 out of 10 stars

Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1 (The Mysterious Howling,) by Maryrose Wood

9780061791055When 15 year old Penelope Lumley stepped off the carriage at Ashton Place to interview for a governess post, she had no idea what awaited her.  After quickly being hired by flighty Lady Ashton, Penelope suddenly found herself in charge of 3 feral children that Lord Ashton had discovered on his property the only week before.  All of Penelope’s hopes of imparting her knowledge of languages, math, and geography were dashed so she could teach the children the most basic skills.  They had no language, no manners, and couldn’t even dress themselves properly.  Meanwhile, Lady Ashton is thinking only of planning her first big party as mistress of the house and Lord Ashton spends all his days at the gentleman’s club.

Written in a charming style that makes Miss Lumley appear both loving and determined, author Maryrose Wood has managed to make this first book in the series akin to children’s books of old, like Mary Poppins or Alice in Wonderland.  The story is nothing if not unique, as well as engaging and well-paced.  I was enraptured and read it in less than a day.

This is a little gem of a book, and I have already begun Book 2 (The Hidden Gallery.)  How wonderful to read a novel that doesn’t talk down to its reader, doesn’t resort to the current trends of zombies and vampires, and even makes an effort to introduce its readers to new words (“irony” and “hyperbole” are cleverly explained in context.)  Penelope Lumley is smart, plucky and likeable, yet rarely discouraged despite her circumstances.  Since leaving the classroom 4 years ago, this is the first series I have encountered that made me wish I had students again with which to share it.

10 out of 10 stars