Saturday, January 12, 2008

Betty Brock

No Flying in the House
by Betty Brock
Recommended Age: 8+

When I was a young boy, I had two grandmothers who both strongly encouraged me to become the avid reader that I am today. They did so in different ways. The one that I mentioned in my review of Piers Anthony’s Xanth series simply gave me unlimited access to her enormous library, none of which was really written for children. She was also willing to talk with me, as one adult to another, about books we had both read. The other grandmother, in comparison, was wildly and warmly affectionate and, besides, she worked as a teacher’s aide. So her approach was to give me loads of children’s books, ordered from the Scholastic catalogue, every time there was an excuse to shower me with extravagant gifts. These were examples of radically different kinds of grandparenting, and different ways of exposing kids to books. Both of them worked for me!

I tell this story because one of the books my second grandmother gave me, around the time I was in fourth grade, was No Flying in the House by Betty Brock. It is also a book that I have wanted to tell you about since I started working on the Book Trolley, but I wasn’t able to track down a copy until a recent weekend trip to New York. The first place I went after checking into my hotel was the “Mecca” of young-readers’ fiction fans: Books of Wonder, at 18 W. 18th Street in Manhattan. It is the oldest and greatest all-children’s bookstore, and it is the place to go for fans of Oz, kids’ classics, and young-adult fantasy. Believe me, I was not paid to make this plug; in fact, I paid dearly – my whole weekend’s spending money gone in the first hour that I was in New York – and all I got for it was a pile of hard-to-find books by L. Frank Baum, E. Nesbit, Tove Jansson, and this short, sweet story by Betty Brock. Oh yeah, they threw in a canvas shopping bag because I spent over $100. But I digress.

No Flying in the House sounds like a story about a child with magical powers, being brought up in a very strict, well-ordered, non-magical house. And that’s what it is. At first, Annabel doesn’t know she has fairy powers, like being able to fly. This is in spite of the fact that the mother figure in her life is a three-inch-tall, talking dog named Gloria who can do 367 tricks. Annabel and Gloria live with a very fussy, well-to-do lady named Mrs. Vancourt, and they believe that Annabel’s parents will return some day. But a wicked fairy in the form of a gold-plated, wind-up cat does her best to prevent that happy reunion, by showing up when no one else is around and tempting Annabel to use her magical powers.

This is a touching, funny story about a child who longs, body and soul, to have her very own loving parents. It is a magical mystery, a fairy-tale puzzle, that unravels at a cheerful pace. It is a story that recognizes how painful it is not to be believed, how corrosive a guilty secret can be, how the grief of a loved one’s loss can make you physically weak, and how people who love each other can misunderstand the different ways each expresses love for the other. It is a story, finally, in which a little girl is faced with a terrible choice between power and love.

I remember this story as a vocabulary-builder and a story of pure fun. I re-read it and found that it is full of heart. Maybe it isn’t so much a story to read after Harry Potter, as one to read before. Girls may especially like it, because most of the characters are girls and women. But grandmothers, do not hesitate to give this book even to your grandsons.

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