published February 2010 by HarperCollins
272 pages (hardcover), MG
Miss Penelope Lumley has just graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, with a glowing review from her headmistress to Lady Constance of Ashton Place for the position of governess. Penelope is well-educated and tender-hearted, and while she is nervous to begin her new life, she puts all worrisome thoughts aside by referring to the sayings of the wise Agatha Swanburne. Her charges are three feral children, found in the woods of the estate, and huddled together, growling, clothed in saddle blankets in the barn upon Miss Lumley's arrival. Most ladies of her young age and little experience would run far, far in the opposite direction, but Penelope is grateful for the opportunity and takes her job as governess very seriously and professionally. In no time, the children are transformed, not only in appearance but also in manners and speech. But something is amiss at Ashton Place...
Oh, I have so many mixed feelings for this book! Personally, I enjoyed it quite thoroughly. It certainly reminded me of Bronte's Jane Eyre and Henry James' works, which is a good thing for me! The language is in keeping with that era, as well as the setting and characters' thoughts and actions. But this is very unusual to me - a Victorian-ish children's book? What child will read this? The jacket flap recommends this book for children ages 8-12, but I don't know a single 10 year-old who will read and like this book. These were my initial reactions - as I thought about it some more, I reasoned that no, this book is not meant for every child. Not every book will have a wide and varied audience. This one has a great audience in teachers and librarians, and perhaps it will have an audience in 10 year-old girls wanting to (and being able to) read high school books. I'm forever seeing librarians puzzled by parents who are looking for something that their "gifted" children can read at their level but that is appropriate for their age - this one will fit that bill. The language (both vocabulary and style) is challenging, and it will certainly prepare them for the classics they will have to read in high school.
So, this really is supposed to be a glowing review. But it's hard to separate my personal and professional feelings on this one - in any coherent matter, at least. I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages so that you can experience the joy I felt while reading this book!
"This memory was both happy and sad: happy because it was so pleasant, and sad because it made Penelope think about how much she missed Swanburne--the girls, the teachers, Miss Mortimer. Or perhaps it was her own much younger self, that pint-sized person whom she could never be again, whom she missed. It was hard to say" (174).
"'My heavens!' Mrs. Clarke exclaimed. 'I am sure I have never seen three such extraordinarily handsome and well-turned-out children!'
As you may know, complimentary remarks of this type are all too often made by well-meaning adults to children who are, to be frank, perfectly ordinary-looking. This practice of overstating the case is called hyperbole. Hyperbole is usually harmless, but in some cases it has been known to precipitate unnecessary wars as well as a painful gaseous condition called stock market bubbles. For safety's sake, then, hyperbole should be used with restraint and only by those with the proper literary training" (188-9).
"In Miss Penelope Lumley's day it was often said that the mark of a good servant was to do his or her job with brisk efficiency while at the same time remaining 'invisible.' You may take this as another example of hyperbole, for Miss Penelope Lumley's day servants did not actually have the power to become invisible, although it certainly would be interesting if they had. (Some years later, a Mr. H.G. Wells would write a definitive book on the subject of invisibility, which is well worth reading. However, under no circumstances are you to repeat the experiments he describes except under the strictest adult supervision)" (201-2).Do you understand now why I, as an adult, enjoyed this book very much but why I wonder if it has the same kid appeal? Wish I could hear some kid thoughts on this one.
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