Friday, December 11, 2015

When Mischief Came to Town--Shelf Awareness Pro

I had a new book review in Shelf Awareness Pro!

Children's Review: When Mischief Came to Town

When Mischief Came to Town by Katrina Nannestad (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 hardcover, 208p., ages 9-12, 9780544534322, January 5, 2016)

When Mischief Came to Town, originally published in author Katrina Nannestad's home country of Australia, is a funny, warmhearted story about the search for family and the power of belonging.

From the moment 10-year-old Inge Maria Jensen steps off a boat and onto the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm in 1911, life in the quiet Danish town of Svaneke is forever changed. With her lopsided, spiky tufts of hair (one of her long blonde plaits was chewed off by a goat on the boat while she was asleep), Inge Maria presents quite a contrast to the somber, black-clad grandmother who waits for her at the harbor. Inge Maria wonders if her unsmiling grandmother might even be wearing black bloomers, because "[g]loomy underwear would be enough to wipe the joy from anyone's face." As Grandmother rolls her eyes and drags her granddaughter home by the arm, Inge Maria vows to be brave and "make Mama proud of me."

Fortunately, Grandmother's house on the farm is comfortingly pretty, and it has a roof made of straw thatching. Inge is heartened: "This cheers me up a little. At least she doesn't live in a cave, or a hole in a tree. It happens, you know. I've read about it in fairy tales." Winning Grandmother's heart is hard going at first, especially when Inge Maria's kicking contest with the donkey results in a dozen broken eggs and a concussed turkey named Henry. Nor does it help when "a blast of squashed-giggle air shoots out her nose," sullying Grandmother’s freshly laundered bloomers, which, astonishingly, have "white lace on the edges and a giant pink rose embroidered on each side." Still, it doesn't take long before Grandmother, more softhearted than she looks, is shaking with laughter at Inge Maria's mishaps and goodhearted mischief.

Of course, there is also the rest of the town to win over, including the judgmental Angelina Nordstrup with her "piercing stare," the mostly silent Pedersen twins, and Her Nielsen, the tall, serious teacher who joylessly runs the Svaneke Folk School, with art lessons where all drawings look the same, music lessons with no dancing, and even a "No Girls Allowed" area of the playground, because girls must sit quietly while the boys play. Spirited Inge Maria can't help but challenge the system.

Inge Maria adores the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, and they figure prominently in the story as both a relic from her previous, happy life in Copenhagen with her late mother, and as the inspiration for much of her inventive storytelling and fanciful behavior. In the end, Andersen's fairy tales become a bridge between Inge Maria and her jelly-soft Grandmother, as cozy bedtimes spent reading together allow the girl to feel safe and loved again. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. Printed 12/1/15.

Shelf Talker: Fans of Pippi Longstocking will devour this hilarious debut novel, featuring an energetic 10-year-old who invigorates an isolated Danish town.

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