There are some books in the Children’s Fiction genre that I feel would have made me a better human being now, had I read them at the right time. This book is one of those important books I wish I had read at a younger age.
Nevertheless, I’m currently in a phase of life where I am deeply interested in soul-searching talks and understanding myself and my shortcomings much better. This book and the wonderful main character, Augusta Neubronner, have really helped me learn some significant lessons I hope I can remember for the rest of my life.
This book is set in 1941, at the cusp of the Second World War. Have I mentioned earlier that I love reading books about this particular period in history? Not exactly the cusp, but the entire period of the World War II. The Book Thief, Five Quarters of The Orange are a few of my favourites. I do hope I can squeeze in some more books of this sub-genre this year.
Getting back to the plot of “The Orphan Band of Springdale” by Anne Nesbet. The story starts with eleven year old ‘Gusta’ or Augusta Neubronner being abandoned by her father, who is a foreign-born labour organiser, at a bus station. Augusta boards the bus, without her father, to an orphanage run by her grandmother. Why? August has to flee the country, as “Germans” were not welcome in USA and he dreams of seeking refuge in Canada. And a safer future for his daughter by dispatching her to her grandmother’s orphanage.
Gusta reaches this orphanage, blind with myopia (literally), with her meagre possessions and a French horn, the sole memento of her father. She is quite skilled at playing it, and her talent is even recognised by a high school music teacher, Ms. Kendall. However, Gusta doesn’t really ‘enjoy’ playing this expensive musical instrument, as the constant thought of ‘how the horn could be sold off to get some money that could solve real-life problems like fixing her uncle’s mangled hand’ troubles her. She is too young to make that sacrifice without a drop of hesitation, yet mature enough to understand that she may have to sell it off someday, and be deprived of the only connection she has with her father.
Gusta also has another option: find the fabled, coin-like ‘Wish’ and make a wish. Gusta, while simultaneously managing her schoolwork and household work, tries her best to search for this ‘Wish’. As time passes without Gusta locating the magical coin, the many problems that the singular ‘Wish’ has to solve keep on multiplying.
Will she find her Wish? What will she wish for? Will she choose the safety of her father over the health of her uncle, or the health of her uncle over the happiness of her fellow orphan and friend Josie, or Josie’s happiness over her own happiness? What if she never finds the Wish? What if she finds the Wish and wastes it?
It’s a tough position to be in at the age of eleven.
Which is why this beautiful story of hope, empathy, family, friendship, companionship is one I urge you to read.
The characters in this book are Gusta, her mother and father, her Grandma Hoopes, Aunt Marion, Josie, Bess, the other orphans, George Thibodeau and Molly Gowen (I have mentioned their full names for reasons you will only understand when you read the book), Mr. Bertmann, Miss Kendall and Mr. Kendall and other supporting characters.
What I liked about this book is
- The beauty with which the author has described this story. This story is set in the countryside of Springdale, Maine. There are ample references to overgrown grassy hills and abandoned lighthouses in the middle of the forest and small town politics, which is reminiscent of a quaint yet exciting life usually associated with childhood. (Quaint life can only be exciting from the POV of a child. For the rest of us, quaint = dull)
- The life skills that a young reader can imbibe while reading this book. A few that I can point out are: empathy, understanding, honesty, loyalty, resilience, the importance of clearcut communication, the ability to help someone else achieve their goals by supporting them in every way possible and many more.
- The familial relationships are just beautifully crafted and portrayed.
I started reading this book in April, while I was preparing for my exams. I used to take this book one chapter at a time in April. I had gone on a reading hiatus from mid-April to end of May. I only picked up this book again today, and finished the rest of the book from 60% to 100% today evening. That’s how much I loved this book (I could concentrate on every word and finish it at my usual reading speed. I’m back to normal!)
I give this book a 4/5 star rating, and recommend this book to every kid from the ages 10-13.
Note: Thank you Candlewick Press and NetGalley for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book.