Author: Kate Albus
Publication: Holiday House, hardcover, 2021
Genre: Juvenile historical fiction
Setting: World War II EnglandDescription: William, Edmund and Anna Pearce will not miss their formidable grandmother but, without her, they realize they are now homeless orphans. The only plan that Mr. Engersoll, the lawyer, can come up with is to evacuate the Pearces to the country with other London children, and he advises them to find a family willing to keep them indefinitely. With no options, the Pearces pack their bags and are taken by train to the country. Although they are taken in by local families, they are mistreated, inadequately fed, and/or ignored by those who should care about their wellbeing. The only kindness they receive is from Nora Muller, the librarian shunned by the town because her husband is German. It is up to these appealing children to take control of their destiny by following their instincts to find someone who really cares about them.
My Impression: As some know, I am fascinated by orphans and evacuation stories and this one is delightful, if improbable. Even if the grandmother died without providing for the three children, it seems irresponsible of her lawyer to send the children away as evacuees without following up to see if they will be properly cared for but as the premise for a story, it works well:
William glanced at Edmund, then Miss Collins. “You mean,” he said, measuring each word, “that we should be evacuated and hope that whatever family takes us on will want to keep us forever?The children love books and reading will be their salvation. Anna packs A Little Princess in the small suitcase they are allowed to bring to the country, Edmund brings The Count of Monte Cristo, and William brings the fourth volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. This does not endear them to the host families that take them in but it does mean the only place they feel at home is the lending library. Like the Pearces, librarian Nora Muller is not completely accepted in the village. She met her German husband in a bookshop between the wars and married him. Nearly three years earlier he went to Germany to visit his family and never returned. The villagers treat Nora with wariness in case her husband is a Nazi. But she is the only person who notices the Pearces are hungry and produces cookies.
Mr. Engersoll leaned back and folded his hands in his lap. “Precisely. . . You would need to be circumspect, of course. You couldn’t tell anyone the truth about your grandmother, or your inheritance, at least until you were sure you’d landed somewhere that you all agreed was a suitable home. We don’t want anybody taking advantage of you.”
“Such noise in a library!” Mrs. Muller raised her eyebrows in jest, then studied the children for a long moment. Her voice went softer. “You three look a bit peaky. Is there enough to go around at your billet?”We are in England, after all, so a good editor would have corrected cookies to biscuits! For the most part, however, the author avoids obvious Americanism.
The children were caught out by the directness of her question. Each silently considered telling her the truth, but it seemed somehow shameful to admit their hunger.
The story owes some of its charm to the classic plucky orphan tales of yore as well as to the convincing depiction of the three likable children. William, in particular, is a very lovable character, shouldering responsibility for his siblings and reluctantly recognizing that injustice has to be suffered so that they can remain together, while Anna won my heart with her love of Sara Crewe.
Source: Library, 4½ / 5 stars. Thank you to Emily G for bringing this book to my attention!