Ida B by Katherine Hannigan

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Ida B by Katherine Hannigan

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A strong and individual voice and a good grasp of the way children can internalise anger make this a great choice for pre-teen girls. It can tend to the saccharine though and adults may find the central character a little precious.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0007234202

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Ida B - pronounced eedabee and only ever eyedah without the B when she's in trouble - lives an idyllic life on a beautiful farm with its own orchard, brook and mountain which isn't really a mountain, but hill is just too tiny a word for it. Ida B tried school, but didn't like it, so her indulgent parents teach her at home and are making a fine job of it, because she passes her annual test with flying colours. Given a great deal of freedom and often left to her own devices, Ida B spends her time with Rufus the dog and Lulu the cat. She talks to the trees and they talk right back. She formulates plans and sends miniature rafts down the brook to which she attaches notes that say If this raft reaches the ocean, will you please let us know? The Ida B Applewood Construction Company.

All in all, as far as Ida B is concerned, life is most satisfactory.

But then her mother falls ill with cancer, her father has to sell the orchard to pay the medical bills, and Ida B is forced to return to school. And this is not satisfactory at all, so Ida B hardens her heart and sets about making life as miserable and difficult for everyone as possible, including herself.

This is the story of a spirited, intelligent little girl who feels let down by her parents. Any parent will tell you that a child's hurt anger is a deep and abiding thing to which they will cling stubbornly, refusing to listen to reason or common sense. And you can't really blame them. Children resist external change and find it difficult to deal with. Unexpected change is even worse. As Ida B sees it, her parents have broken all their promises to her and left her standing on some unpleasantly shifting sands. And with the typical self-centredness of a child, she doesn't see that their sands are shifting too.

Ida B pops up from the pages in a strong and demanding way which is sure to capture the attention of all pre-teen girls. She's ever-so-slightly affected and a little bit spoiled, but basically good at heart. This makes her a tremendously attractive character. And because the narrative is first person, young readers can experience Ida B's anger and frustration right along with her. They can also share the misunderstandings and the awful shame that comes when it's time for this little girl to do some growing up and realise that she's the one in the wrong. Hannigan is right on the button with these mini rites of passage. By making Ida B's feelings the focal point of the book, rather than the external event of Mama's illness, she brings all these feelings that step closer to the reader.

If I'm honest, I found Ida B a little irritating. She's precocious and a little bit precious, even after she's come to her senses. I think if I knew her she'd get on my nerves. The book is also just that little bit too saccharine for my tastes. But tween girls love pretty and pink and love and happy endings and I'm probably just being a miserable old cynic. There's some real and strong emotion going on in this book and it's backed up by some quirkiness and clever word play. Recommended for all girly girls from about 9 to 12.

My thanks to the nice people at Harper Collins for sending the book.

Paula Fox's One-Eyed Cat also talks about a child with an ill parent, while Louis Sachar's Someday Angeline is equally quirky but manages to be slightly less saccharine.

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