Monday, July 1, 2013

Reading Through History: The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson (2008)

With World War II about to begin, Tally Hamilton, a doctor’s daughter, leaves her home in London to attend Delderton Hall, a progressive boarding school in the British countryside. While there, she becomes aware of the brave king of a small nation called Bergania, who has refused to give in to Hitler’s demands, and of his young son, Prince Karil. When Tally and some of her classmates are later invited to a folk dancing festival in Bergania, she devises a plan for them to be able to participate so that she might have the chance of experiencing this country firsthand. Unexpected circumstances lead to her actually meeting the prince himself, and when the king is assassinated, Tally finds that she and her friends might be Karil’s only chance to escape from the Nazis and avoid being sent to prison.

This middle grade novel truly offers something for everyone. It is part school story and part adventure, filled with both the daily activities of British schoolchildren and moments of true danger and suspense. The writing is beautifully descriptive, and each of the characters, no matter how minor, has a fully developed personality and backstory that in some way contributes to the larger picture. The adult characters are just as interesting as the kids, and the relationships Tally develops with her teachers are some of my favorites of the entire book. Though Bergania is not a real country, it comes perfectly to life in Ibbotson’s details. I especially enjoyed the significance of The Dragonfly Pool, the secret respite for which the book is named, which is visited by several of the characters in times of emotional distress at various points throughout the book.

Though this not a fantasy novel, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Harry Potter series. The boarding school environment obviously made me think of Hogwarts, and many of the teachers easily matched up with Harry Potter counterparts. The secrecy and urgency surrounding Karil’s escape from Nazi-occupied Bergania remind me of the efforts of Harry’s friends to protect him from Voldemort. Even Karil’s time spent in his grandfather’s house had the same suffocating and desperate feeling as Harry’s summers on Privet Drive. Though The Dragonfly Pool lacks the magical elements of Harry Potter, I still think it is an excellent read-alike for the series, and one that might be overlooked by kids without a bit of a booktalk from an adult.

The Dragonfly Pool is one of my favorites of all the books I’ve read so far this year, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Eva Ibbotson. I also loved the voice of the audiobook narrator, Patricia Conelly, and I would highly recommend listening to this book just to hear the way she reads it. The story is great, but the combination of the great writing and Conelly’s perfect performance make the audiobook an absolute treat.

1 comment:

  1. I read The Dragonfly Pool a while back and loved it. I would be curious to hear it on an audio book though, so I'll have to look for it in the library. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book. Ibbotson was such a wonderful writer.