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The Star of Kazan

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This is another delightful novel from Eva Ibbotson.  She  grew up in pre-World War II Vienna.  Because her family was Jewish, they escaped to England.  The Star of Kazan reflects her love of Austria and her dread of Germany.   The observant reader will notice the presence of early Nazi philosophy in her writing.

Annika is an orphan with a mysterious  past.  Two servants discovered her as infant abandoned in a mountainside chapel. They brought her home and raised in her in the servant’s quarters of a grand house. (think Downton Abbey)

Early on Annika delights in the domestic arts, learning at an early age to make gourmet meals and keep house.  She is happy but she often wonders about her “real mother”

Annika delights in her friendship with the lady across the street, the unwanted aunt of  a dutiful family.   Annika enjoys hearing the older lady’s stories about her days touring in Europe with the theatre.  When she dies, she leaves Annika a trunk full of theatre props and costume jewelry, or so she thinks,  but  a scheming woman in Germany knows better.

While Annika has often fantasized about her mother’s return, she is unprepared when Edeltraut Von Tannenburg knocks on her door and insists on taking her to Germany. Annika always dreamed that her mother would come for her but she never thought about saying goodbye to all the  people she loves in Vienna.

Annika’s new home in Germany is a dark and forbidding mansion. It is bitterly cold inside and out. . The walls are covered with dark heavy hangings embroidered with battle scenes. The rugs on the floor are threadbare and the drapes faded.   She is baffled when her mother insists that she is never to cook or do housework.

Then it gets worse. Annika is sent away to a boarding school called Grossenfluss for “daughters of the nobility” so she can be trained to serve the Fatherland. She is assigned to be pupil 127. (No one will say what happened to pupil 126.) She is issued a uniform and assigned to a room with thirty iron beds covered with gray blankets   The school is run by Fraulein Von Donner, the only  woman in Germany who had received “The Order of the Closed Fist.”

This is a great adventure story with lively characters and crafty villains.  There are some dark moments  but in Ibbotson’s world, the good are rewarded and the evil are punished.

Recommended  for fourth grade and up.

2

Journey to the River Sea

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Eva Ibbotson is my favorite author. Her style is similar to Roald Dahl and E. Nestbit. Whether her setting  is the Amazon Jungle or prewar Vienna, she creates delightful descriptions of her surroundings.  Her characters are always colorful and her villains deliciously creepy.

Like many great heroines of literature, Maia is an orphan.  She is attending boarding school in England when her lawyer discovers that she has relatives living near the Amazon River in Brazil.  While classmates warn her about frightening creatures and wild jungles, Maia does her research and anticipates a grand adventure.  She is especially excited to meet her twin cousins, Gwendolyn and Beatrice.

Maia and her guardian Miss Minchin sail from England to Brazil.   On the ship, she befriends Clovis, another orphan, who is acting with a traveling company.  Clovis hates his life in the theatre and longs to go back to a more civilized life in England.

In Brazil, Maia discovers that her new relatives despise Brazil and most everything else.  They never venture outside avoiding the heat  and the mosquitos.  They reject the fresh bananas and local seafood in favor of imported beet root, corn beef and green jelly from England.  Gwendolyn and Beatrice are especially disagreeable.  From the start, they attempt to make Maia’s life miserable.

Maia is enchanted by the Amazon River, often called the River Sea, and the nearby rainforest where howler monkeys swing from the trees as scarlet parakeets and clusters of butterflies fly overhead.

Maia also meets Finn (yet another orphan) who lives among the natives on the edge of the Amazon. His father was a wealthy man with an estate in England.  He was an outdoorsman who married a native and settled in Brazil.

Two men from his father’s estate, known to the natives as “the Crows”, because of their grey suits, are trying to capture Finn and take him back to England.  The bumbling crows are constantly thwarted by Finn’s friends who send them in the opposite direction.

So Maia and Finn develop an elaborate plan to ship Clovis to England and then set off a journey of their own, with chaperones, down the Amazon River for the most magical journey of all.

This is a great book for fourth grade and up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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