Children who chase squirrels and other daily events

There were so many things I loved about this book.  I certainly enjoyed reading it.  But there were so many things I didn’t enjoy, and so every time I thumb through my bookcase of middle grade and young adult books (already filling up two rows deep, like one of those used bookstores that smells really good), I think to myself how that doesn’t really fit the criteria of books I want to blog about.  But then Kirkus reviews, who I would have to grudgingly admit probably knows their stuff (and grudgingly, mind you, not because I have anything against them but only because they seem to *gasp* disagree with me), has placed this book on their list of best books of 2010 and so now I am forced to reconsider.  So, in case you follow their advice over mine (or my advice over mine, since I did tell you in the last post to buy the Kirkus review books), here’s a little synopsis of what was, really, a charming book to read.

Title: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling
Author: Maryrose Wood
Genre
: Fiction/Fantasy
Age: Young Middle Grade, Ages 8 – 12

Summary and Review:

The narrator of this book has a great voice, which is one of the things I loved about it.  It has an old-fashioned feel to it which I always love, and the girl, a 15-year-old graduate taking her first job with children, can tell a story well.  The girl arrives at a mansion in the woods to care for three children.  The woman of the house is beside herself, having tried to marry into a good situation (i.e. money) but presently completely unhappy with the way her husband ignores her (especially on full-moon nights, when he is nowhere to be found).  They have discovered three children in the forest who appear to have been raised by wolves, and now want to raise them as their own (or at least have Miss Penelope Lumley, our heroine, raise them).  And there’s a lurking coachmen.  And a grand ball, thrown by aforementioned housewife, that Miss Lumley has to get the children ready to attend.

The set-up is perfect for lots of fun, mischief, misbehavior (if accidental as they don’t know any better), and mystery.  And you would think it would also be perfect for some wacky characters that would be fun to get to know and some answers to the mystery, but here’s the catch: it’s not.  The narrator, Miss Penelope, and the housewife are well-developed characters.  The husband and the coachman are interesting.  But the children are really just wild.  You see some glimpses, but I really wanted to see more.  Of course, Miss Penelope is 15, a perfectly reasonable age for a MG heroine, but in the old-fashioned context and in her responsible role, she seems more of an adult character than not.  That, though, could be my own fault.  And none of the mysteries are solved (even though some are obvious).

So basically, this whole book is a set-up for the next one, and you feel like you just watched part one of a two-part TV special.  It’s like a soap opera.  I have no problem with series books–in fact I quite like a continuing story, but for me, each book has to stand alone.  And this one doesn’t.  It’s very short, and I have no idea why they didn’t just finish it and make a whole book, but probably something to do with money.  At any rate, it irritates me.  So there you go.  And while I have no doubt that the children will become better-developed characters as the series goes on, I want really good children’s characters in a children’s book.  That’s just how it should be.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

One thing that really brings out the maturity in a kid is having them take care of another kid.  Of course, any kind of responsibility helps, but there seems to be something about being in charge of a smaller being that brings out the best in people.  So ask your children what they might do if they were in the heroine’s shoes.  How would they possibly teach these children?  And ask them to challenge some of the book’s assumptions; after all, the children have done very well by themselves, is it right necessarily to train them out of their old habits?

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