Review Blog

Jun 01 2020

Eloise and the bucket of stars by Janeen Brian

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Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760651879.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Eloise Pail lives in a soulless place, the Children of Paradise Orphanage, rivalling Jane Eyre's Lowood Institution for cruelty and privation.
Nearly thirteen she is burdened with many of the tasks to keep the place running by the vindictive head nun, Sister Hortense. A nastier protagonist is hard to find, and readers will squirm seeing the ways Sister Hortense makes Eloise's life miserable. Eloise longs for a family, but knows nothing of her background. Her name has been given her by the institution, her surname Pail from the bucket in which she arrived at the orphanage as a baby in 1807.
She goes to the village each day to fetch water and always stops to talk to the blacksmith's horse. She dreams of what a family might be like while talking to the stars at night, her only friends. But Hortense seems to have a second sense about Eloise's veering from her duties and is quick to punish.
One day in the village Mr Jackson, the smithy gives her a piece of paper to decipher with a drawing of a unicorn on it. Already punished by Sister Hortense for telling the younger orphans a story about unicorns, Eloise keeps the stories to herself, writing them on a scroll she keeps on her person.
When a new girl, Janie Pritchard arrives at the orphanage Eloise takes a long time to trust her. She watches Eloise, asking questions, and Eloise finds that like her, she watches for shooting stars, said to be ridden by unicorns. When a busker snatches the blacksmith's paper from her grasp, Eloise is at a loss to remember what was written, but the dying spinach in the vegetable patch points to the veracity of the words, telling of something happening at the next full moon. And just when the girls are beginning to trust each other and share what they know, Janie is adopted by a family on a distant farm. But the full moon approaches.
Brian has written an engrossing, multi layered story about Eloise, a character all readers will admire and love as she battles with her situation. The cold, loveless background bristles with injustice, and the magical turn of the story will further beguile readers' imaginations. What a cracker of a story. Teacher's notes are available. Themes: Family, Magic, Belonging, Orphanages, Abuse.
Fran Knight

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