I have been reading children’s authors lately. I have been so impressed with the issues they take on to help children see and hear the world, both the positive and not-so-positive. Issues like bullying, or dealing with a disability, or nutrition and growing vegetables, or learning to write computer language or how to cook — children’s literature covers them all. Sometimes you will find the children’s version of a great literary classic, or (as in this case) the story surrounding how the author wrote such a story.
I have just finished reading Strange Star by Emma Carroll. It is the story of how Mary Shelley came to write Frankenstein. In 1816, 19-year-old Mary was staying in a lake house in the Swiss Alps with Claire Clairmont, her stepsister, and Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, both considered great English Romantic poets. The rain-drenched summer caused them all to be inside and bored. A challenge from Byron to write a ghost story to pass the time was the spark for Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein.
Carroll has taken this intriguing history of the birth of this classic novel and written a story which brings the reader into that lake house, into that drawing room with the fire ablaze and the rain hammering on the windows. She brings Mary Shelley to life as an incredibly outspoken and smart young woman, but also someone dealing with the death of her daughter. Mary, in her grief, talks about her great interest in things metaphysical, about spirits, and about the future. Could, perhaps, the dead be brought back to life somehow? And so, when Lord Byron tasks her with writing a story, this is what was on her mind. There is also another running story line of an uninvited guest arriving at the front door in the storm. When sufficiently revived, she tells the tale of her travels and how she came to be at their door. Her very dark secret, once revealed, will surprise Mary Shelley and you, the reader, as well.
The language of the story is geared to children between 5th and 8th grade, but certainly not written down to them by any means. I found this adventure with its historical roots very readable, and I have Emma Carroll’s first book, In Darkling Wood, on my list for future reads. Try a children’s book sometime. You’ll be surprised at the quality of the writing (and the illustrations) and the subjects that are dealt with. There are treasures in children’s literature just waiting to be discovered by adults.
To request a copy, click here.
Review by Mary Ellen Wilson, Interlibrary Loan Coordinator