Monday, August 24, 2015
MMGM: The Dragonfly Pool, by Eva Ibbotson
I've tried to deny it: I claim I'm as modern and ironic as the best of you. But the truth is I'm a Romantic. Not walking in the rain romantic, but Wordsworth, Beethoven, Rousseau, capital R Romantic. Nature as the greatest good (that would be Nature, not nature). Children as innocents who will naturally be kind and generous and noble, if they're only freed from the constraints of a rigid and corrupt society and given the right sort of education. Nobility, not of class but of soul, as something we can all achieve if we follow our heart and are free to express our true inner selves.
Now, I've encountered nature, and I've met the odd child (may have raised a few myself), and I know that this is purest fantasy. But oh, what a wonderful fantasy it is!
Eva Ibbotson does Romantic like nobody's business.
I loved The Dragonfly Pool. There may be readers out there who will be impatient with the unabashedly Romantic storyline. This is not a dark, gritty or realistic book in any way. There's a school where the children are free to do what they like and therefore have all kinds of meaningful, creative learning experiences and all treat each other with respect (apparently this was based on the school Ibbotson attended, so it's not as fantastical as it sounds). There is a small, happy central European country with a benevolent monarch (where does this fantasy come from?? I mean, has anyone ever been to central Europe?? or read history?) under threat from a repressive conquering neighbour (okay, there's historical precedent there)(the Nazis in this case) and treachery within. (No, it's not called Ruritania, but close.) There's a prince who needs rescuing from nasty Gestapo agents who are fairly easily foiled by a group of children, (and who then needs rescuing from his even nastier snobbish British relatives, because true evil is the shallowhearted selfishness of those who only care about their position in society).
I love this stuff. Eat it up with a spoon. Prisoner of Zenda, The Lost Prince (a lesser known book by Frances Hodgson Burnett). Diana Wynne Jones is more subtle about it, but she plays with these tropes too.
Above all else, I love Ibbotson because she makes you care about her characters. Tally, who is fiercely determined to solve other people's problems. Kit, who just wants to play cricket at a normal school. Karil, who desperately wants to trust in friendship but can't. She grounds her characters and action in specific, resonant details that completely pull you in and make you root for the marvellously satisfying conclusion.
The Dragonfly Pool isn't my favourite Ibbotson; it's no Journey to the River Sea. But if you like her writing style, if you want an adventure story about friendship triumphing against all odds, (and if you secretly yearn with all your heart for Truth, Beauty and other capitalized virtues, even if you could never admit it online), then you'll enjoy this one as much as I did.
Chocolate Banana-bread Bread Pudding. Make a loaf of chocolate-chip banana bread. (Actually, make two.) With the stale leftovers (because you made two loaves), make bread pudding. Throw in a few extra chunks of dark chocolate for good measure. Decadent, creamy, comforting, sweet.
More Marvelous Middle-Grade books can be found every Monday on Shannon Messenger's marvelous blog.