Monday, April 18, 2016


by Julie Andrews Edwards
Recommended Ages: 10+

This now classic children's book explores the confused and painful emotions of a 10-year-old orphan girl who, in spite of the kindness of everyone around her at the orphanage and beyond, becomes overwhelmed by the need to have a home of her own and a loving family around her.

When Mandy discovers a neglected cottage on the vacant manorial estate on the other side of the wall behind her orphanage, she becomes so obsessed with keeping it to herself that she is soon lying, stealing, and antagonizing her best friend. She doesn't understand what is happening inside her heart, but it lies open to the reader as she digs, plants, and trims the garden, sweeps the little cottage, and makes believe the birds and bunnies and deer in the neighborhood are her personal friends. Meanwhile she begins taking more and more daring risks and telling bigger and bigger whoppers.

The turning point comes one stormy night when Mandy becomes dangerously ill while visiting her all-but-secret hideaway. What saves her is too dramatic, too like a miracle to seem only a lucky chance. But as she recovers from a dangerous sickness of the body in the care of a family she doesn't dare to wish to have for her own, the pain in her mind becomes unbearable.

This is a book that sneaks up on you and grabs your heart. As it opens, and even now and then throughout, it threatens to become something bland and saccharine, without any real conflict. But then it keeps opening a window on the conflict inside little Mandy, showing us without compromise not only her awful feelings but also some of her awful behavior. In spite of the latter, the reader's sympathy for her grows as she struggles to put a brave front on what often seems to be a hopeless heartache, until one feels as emotionally wrung-out as the girl herself. It would take a truly cold heart to read it all the way through and not get a lump in your throat, or a qualm of conscience about all those lonely orphans out there in the world.

Julie Andrews, the actress best known for her roles in The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and the Princess Diaries film series, wrote this book for one of her daughters during a school holiday when her children came to visit her on a film location. According to a foreword to the "35th anniversary edition" of the book, the manor house and its surrounding cottages where the film was shot inspired the setting of this story. Either on her own or in collaboration with another of her daughters, Andrews has also written The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, the "Dumpy the Dumptruck" series, Simeon's Gift, Dragon: Hound of Honor, and other titles.

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