Sunday, August 3, 2014

Book Review: A Brother for the Orphelines by Natalie Savage Carlson (1959)

In A Brother for the Orphelines, the second book of the series, Brigitte and the 19 other girls who live in the orphanage are thrilled when a baby is left on their doorstep. Unfortunately, though, the child, whom they name Coucky, is a boy. According to Monsieur de Goupil, who owns the orphanage, the baby will have to go live in the boys' orphanage, as it is inappropriate for boys and girls to share close quarters. Madame Flattot and her charges do everything they can to delay this inevitable move, fearing the sadness that will follow when the girls lose their beloved brother.

Like The Happy Orpheline, this book deserves many kudos for originality. The unusual setting combined with the unique conflict makes this a story unlike any other, either of  the 1950s, or of  today. In keeping with the cheerful mood of  the series, even the most dire problem - potentially losing the baby to the boys' orphanage - is handled with warmth and humor, and the situation is ultimately resolved with an unexpected and fitting ending. Despite the potential for sadness, this winds up being a feel-good read, just perfect for kids who are easily upset and wary of tearjerkers.

Garth Williams reprises his role as illustrator, and his drawings once again capture all the action and emotion of  the story. Especially sweet are his images of baby Coucky sitting in a basket, having his diaper changed,  and being dressed as a girl to hide his true gender. He also does a lovely job of capturing a scary moment where Josine, the smallest of the orphelines, takes a spill down the staircase.

A Brother for the Orphelines is a great twist on the typical "new sibling" books that are perennially popular in middle grade series. It will appeal most to girls in third and fourth grade, as this is an age when kids tend to be especially enamored of babies. It's also a great read-alike for the plethora of baby-themed middle grade novels out there, including The Year of the Baby, Ramona Forever, and Superfudge.

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