The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar
Longtime readers here will know I’m a HUGE Lindsay fan. She has an incredible range and is just so good at what she does. (In fact, I describe all her work as an ode to story.) This book got SIX STARRED REVIEWS and is my prediction for next year’s Newbery. WHAT A BOOK!
So, let’s get a picture of it: Duck is a member of the Crowns, a Oliver Twist-like street gang in medieval France. She’s been singled out by the gang’s leader, Gnat, to serve as a funnel for her rag-tag family. Duck will work as an apprentice to Griselde Baker, providing weekly bread and pilfered coins for the Crowns. Duck relishes the chance to help her clan, but she also comes to love the bakery and the baker herself. Griselde (a fabulous, warm-hearted character who reminded me of the kind priest in Les Mis) is devoted to Duck, trusting her completely. Who exactly is Duck and where does she belong? And how does the gargoyle (and secondary narrator) perched on the never-finished cathedral where the Crowns live fit in?
Every Dog in the Neighborhood by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Louis wants a dog. Grandma says, “Nonsense! There are enough dogs in the neighborhood already!” So Louis goes on a mission to count every dog in their neighborhood, since City Hall doesn’t keep those kinds of records. Louis faithfully knocks on every door, meeting all sorts of neighbors and their “big dogs and little dogs…old dogs and young dogs…dogs with funny haircuts and dogs who are the eyes for people who cannot see. All the dogs are good dogs, even the bad ones.” Louis learns he’s one dog short in his counting — the dog a moving neighbor is giving away to “a kind lady whose grandson would like his very own dog.”
Cordell’s illustrations, which always remind me of Quentin Blake’s work, make this sweet story of community and fuzzy companionship even more cozy. I’d love to share this with a little reader!
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
You might remember my book club calls itself The Dead Authors Society because, well, we only read books by authors who have passed on. This was my recent recommendation. I’d read PICNIC twice before — first as a teen when I was an exchange student to Australia and again when a student of mine brought me a copy (on request) when he was visiting Oz. It’s an undefinable book (Is it a mystery? Is it a thriller? Is it gothic? Is it science fiction?) and is creepy and atmospheric and fascinating and fiction (…or is it?):* On Valentine’s Day in 1900 a group of girls from a boarding school visit Hanging Rock, a local geographic wonder in the Australian bush. Four wander off, and a teacher disappears, too. One girl runs back screaming. Another is found days later, remembering nothing.
The book isn’t so much about what happened (though as a reader, you’re dying to know!) but about the aftermath of the disappearances. There are all sorts of interesting things I didn’t pick up on when I was younger: English life vs. Australian, “civilization” vs. nature, time vs. timelessness and (possibly) the Aboriginal Dreamtime, to name a few. AND the wild thing about this book (made into a wildly popular movie) is that the last chapter WASN’T PUBLISHED IN THE AUTHOR’S LIFETIME! Talk about a cliffhanger / clever way to sell a book / smart move on the editor’s part (because the end doesn’t hold up to the rest of the story, in my opinion). When I returned to Adelaide, South Australia in 1992, one of the first things I asked was, “Has the last chapter of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK been published?” Interestingly, books published since Lindsay’s death don’t include chapter eighteen. BUT! You can read it here.
I did a deep dive while rereading. I know some was pure nostalgia, remembering my days in Adelaide and my former teenage self. But the fascination that took over when I first read and saw the movie was the real drive behind my YouTube lecture-watching adventure. SUCH a good read. Such an important piece of Australian literature! Check it out!
*The book opens with the statement that the book may or may not be true, that all involved are now dead and it’s for the reader to decide. I’ve always thought it was pure fiction — and it is — but evidently there were ghost stories of girls who’d gone missing at the Rock sometime in the 1800s that circulated at the boarding school Lindsay attended (that the school in the book was based on). And three characters are based on real people, too.
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