Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Beyond the Pawpaw Trees

Beyond the Pawpaw Trees: the Story of Anna Lavinia
by Palmer Brown
New York Review Children's Collection, 2011. 122 pgs. Fiction

The New York Review of Books continues its admirable program of reissuing classic children's texts with this book about a young girl whose father has gone somewhere to "chase rainbows" and whose mother makes endless jars of pawpaw jelly to pass the time, apparently, since they never eat any of it. By and by Anna Lavinia's mother sends her off on the train to visit her Aunt Sophia Maria. On the train she meets a fat lady who gives her a tea cosy because you never know when you might need on. She is worried when she sees far ahead that the tracks narrow to a point, and indeed they do and the train has to stop. From there she and her cat Strawberry float down from a cliff to a desert, find an Arabian city with a most obliging Pasha who gives her a camel and a parrot, and then to Aunt Sophia Maria's where a most surprising visitor arrives. Beyond the Pawpaw Trees is nothing if not politically incorrect: there are fat people, and Arabs who sit on silk-covered pillows and brandish jeweled swords. Though her father is a rainbow-chaser, he comes back with something to show for it. But this lovely, old-fashioned, fantastical story has not a trace of malice in it--not even any bad guys!--and Anna Lavinia's adventures, in a time and place where adventures were an expected part of the landscape is a great read, and would be a great read-aloud as well. Check out the NYRB website, Children's Division, for similar treasures.

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