Book: Ida B : . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World
Author: Katherine Hannigan
Age Range: 9-12
Ever since a brief, hideously unsuccessful experiment with kindergarten four years ago, only child Ida B Applewood has been homeschooled. Ida B LOVES being homeschooled. She passes all of the mandated tests with flying colors, and is able to spend lots of time playing outdoors. With a sensibility reminiscent of Anne of Green Gables, Ida B considers herself friends with the rocks, trees, and brooks on her father's farm. She gives them individual names, and fancies that she can hear them speak to her. Her life is non-stop fun, though she takes seriously her responsibility as a caretaker of the land. Everything changes one dark day, however, when her parents let her down in a previously unimaginable manner. Feeling betrayed, Ida B descends into a black pit of resentment, closing off her heart completely, and plotting revenge. What will it take to thaw Ida B's frozen heart?
Ida B is an entertaining, slightly sentimental read, reminiscent of Ruby Holler and Because of Winn Dixie in tone. It would be an excellent book for kids facing any sort of major challenge or life change, especially the illness of a parent. It's a light enough read not to be overwhelming, yet deals with serious issues. Ida B, before she becomes black-hearted, is a joy to spend time with, observant, bold, and creative. Even after her betrayal, she's still funny and determined.
Hannigan's writing style is perfect for this story, descriptive, tactile, and lyrical, but readily accessible to elementary school kids. Here's a small example:
""Hmmmmm," Mama said, like a smile would sound if it could." (Page 4)
Hannigan is particularly skilled in describing sounds, especially voices, and this forms a bit of a leitmotif through the book. Here a couple of other examples:
"One night as we were walking along, Daddy took a deep breath, the kind that sounds like you're smelling something when the air's going in and you're sighing when the air's coming out, and it means something important's about to be spoken." (Page 28)
""Well, Ida Applewood, what can I do for you?" Even with my blurry vision, I could tell she was smiling. You could tell it just from the sound of her voice. I hated it.
"I'm new," I said. And you could tell by the sound of my voice that her happiness had not infected me." (Page97)
Several other things particularly pleased me about this book. First of all, the ending, while happy, does not include unrealistic levels of forgiveness. One relationship is left guarded at best. I like that Hannigan didn't succumb to the temptation to wrap everything up nicely. Also, through the intervention of a wonderful teacher (#50 on Mary Lee and Franki's list), Ida B finds a new activity that she loves so much that it gives her a "warm brightness" inside. I wish that every child (and adult, for that matter) could figure out what that activity is for them, and find ways to incorporate it in day to day life. Perhaps by including such a passion in this book, Hannigan will inspire some children to seek out their dream activities, and some teachers to help them.
I recommend Ida B for older elementary school kids, boys and girls (Ida B is quite a handful, boys will definitely be able to relate to her activities), and for anyone who needs help lifting themselves out of a pit of resentment or grief.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.