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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Nancy and Plum* by Betty MacDonald, illustrated by Mary GrandPre- young readers fantasy book review
Also illustrated by Mary GrandPre:

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art
Nancy and Plum
by Betty MacDonald, illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Ages 7-11 240 pages Knopf October 2010 Hardcover    

Alfred A. Knopf has brilliantly resurrected an old-fashioned story by the author of the classic Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series and paired it with some beautiful new illustrations from the studio of Mary GrandPre, illustrator of the Harry Potter series. Jeanne Birdsall, author of The Penderwicks, sets the stage in an introduction for this timeless story of a year in the life of two mistreated orphan sisters, beginning with a bleak Christmas and ending with a holiday which captures the heart of a young girl’s imagination.

Nancy and Plum’s (short for Pamela) parents have been killed in an accident. Their only relative, a bachelor uncle, cannot care for them, so he sends them to a boarding house for orphans. Without his knowledge, the girls are mistreated, denied his monetary contributions, letters and gifts, inadequately clothed, and often forced to miss meals. To make matters worse, the woman in charge - the evil Mrs. Monday - dotes on her niece, Marybelle (a stereotypical spoiled brat), who constantly tries to get Nancy and Plum into trouble.

Each chapter depicts an event in the girls’ lives, beginning when they are left alone in the boarding house on Christmas Eve with nothing to eat and including other more adventuresome episodes during school, at the library and on a church picnic. At the turning point of the story, the girls’ uncle comes to visit the boarding house but never actually gets a chance to see the girls. Nancy and Plum discover that he really has been a generous benefactor, yet Mrs. Monday has kept all his letters, money and gifts to herself and Marybelle.

The girls run away. After one night alone, they are taken in by the kindly Campbell family, who contact their uncle and convince him of the truth behind the girls’ situation. With a joyous, charitable ending, Plum and Nancy finally find a loving home sharing their gifts with their friends at the orphanage.

Nancy and Plum is filled with an idealistic nostalgia, somewhat like The Secret Garden but with characters which are more formulaic and a plot which is more of a series of escapades lacking a strong underlying theme. The book is best enjoyed when read from the point of view suggested by Jeanne Birdsall in the introduction, as a tale told by a young girl, dreaming of adventure and an idyllic life.

Nancy and Plum’s story is one of innocent dreaming, the fun adventure of escape, and rather rose-colored hardships. Nevertheless, it is a delightful tale perfect for young girls who are reading at an advanced level but are better directed toward innocent content. Give this book to readers who enjoy classic authors such as Frances Hodges Burnett, Maud Hart Lovelace, Elizabeth Enright, etc. lead them to Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks for a more modern storyline.
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  Kristine Wildner/2011 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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