Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Book Review: Peppermints in the Parlor by Barbara Brooks Wallace (1980)

Recently orphaned, Emily Luccock has been sent to live with her aunt and uncle at Sugar Hill Hall. Emily remembers the mansion from past visits, and is looking forward to enjoying its grandeur. When she arrives, however, it becomes clear that something is very wrong. The house is now under the control of Mrs. Meeching and Mrs. Plumly, who are running a home for the elderly, with Emily's aunt as their servant. Emily's uncle is missing, and there is a mysterious bowl of peppermints in the parlor that no one is allowed to touch, or else. Only Kipper, who visits occasionally to deliver fresh fish to the mansion, is at all friendly to Emily, and it is with his help that she will figure out the secrets of Sugar Hill Hall and drive out the evil lurking within its walls.

I read this book to my oldest three girls, ages 7, 5, and 3, and they were really intrigued from beginning to end. The characters are just exaggerated enough that they don't feel threatening to the reader,  but there is still plenty of suspense to make the reading experience a fun emotional rollercoaster.

For me,  this book was also an interesting conversation starter for how the elderly are sometimes treated in our society. The residents of Sugar Hill Hall are discounted and mistreated by the people who are meant to look after them, and it is utterly detrimental to their mental and physical health. When Kipper and Emily begin to enrich their lives by reaching out to them and offering companionship, everything changes for the elderly characters, and their will to live returns. I think the fantastical tone of the book, and the odd feel of the setting make it an ideal medium for exploring this deeper issue. 

Peppermints in the Parlor made a great read-aloud for us. I think to be read independently, the sweet-spot age range is probably ages 7-10. It's an interesting and fresh take on the age-old struggled between good and evil and a great opportunity for kids to examine some real social issues within the safety of a fictional environment. 

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