Ah, sigh. When you find the just right book for the just right time in your life, it feels magical!
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (Holiday House, February 2021) was just right. My then fourth-grader and I read it aloud last year, and it took a lot of willpower to pace ourselves through this sweet middle grade World War II evacuee novel. With a tone reminiscent of the children’s classics like The Railway Children (review) and The Little Princess (review), A Place to Hang the Moon puts three orphaned book-loving children into a country setting with the hopes of finding a forever home. Reading it myself again this week made my heart hum with pleasure.
From the first chapter, which takes place during the grandmother’s funeral, books are central to the children’s lives. Although their unfriendly and cold grandmother has cared for them since their parents’ death seven years earlier, the three children have comforted each other with the stories they’ve read and imagined about what a family looks like. They can only dream for the magical adventures, such as those the children have with Mary Poppins. And although the books they read have many orphaned children, they aren’t discouraged but rather encouraged by the hopeful endings.
Now that their grandmother has died, the orphans have no one to care for them, so the family lawyer has a plan: evacuate to a foster family in the countryside, just as hundred of other children in London are also doing in the summer of 1940. The more subtle plan is the hope that, while in the country, the children might find a family that can adopt all three of them. Unfortunately, it is not quite as easy as that.
When the children arrive in the country village, their foster siblings are anything but welcoming, and bullying and tricks don’t help them acclimate to their new town. Despite this and other hardships, William, Edmund, and Anna quickly find a place of peace and respite in their situation: the small town library, where once again they find books help them, a warm hearth, and a friend that likewise shares a love of books.
It’s hard not to like the three children. Twelve-year-old William has taken on himself the responsibilities for his siblings, and his desire to live like a child and not be responsible is sincere and poignant. Eleven-year-old Edmund gets himself into trouble without meaning too, and when the author mentioned in the note at the end that she was inspired by Edmund in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, I immediately felt the correlation. (I wonder if I had subconsciously noticed it as I read?) Adorable nine-year-old Anna melts hearts. Throughout the story, she just wants to know her mother and have a mother figure, and she looks to the books she reads for inspiration on what person that could be like. Together the children form a self-reliant group that is certain to stay together no matter what, even as they hope for that mother-figure whom they can love.
The book is historical fiction, and gives a fresh look on the historical event of children evacuating London. Although historical fiction, A Place to Hang the Moon feels modern and fresh in everyway. The situations are relatable to any children, and the writing style by Kate Albus feels reminiscent of the books the children themselves are reading: A Little Princess, Five Children and It, Mary Poppins, and so forth. Any person who loves the peace and joy that comes from reading will adore the people, the places, and the story in A Place to Hang the Moon.