by Shannon Hale, published 2005
“Miri woke to the sleepy bleating of a goat. The world was as dark as eyes closed, but perhaps the goats could smell dawn seeping through the cracks in the house’s stone walls. Though still half-asleep, she was aware of the late autumn chill hovering just outside her blanket, and she wanted to curl up tighter and sleep like a bear through frost and night and day.”
Children’s book titles are tricky. I thought I would like Bliss and was disappointed. I was sure I wouldn’t like Princess Academy and was completely mistaken. When I read the opening lines (above), I couldn’t believe the beauty of the writing, and knew at once that I had to read this children’s book. I’m so glad I did.
The most enticing part of this children’s book is the magical world that the author creates for her characters…a remote mountain village that quarries exquisite rock. Everything about the village life is somewhat unusual but beautifully depicted for us, in stark contrast to ‘the lowlands.’ The message of stereotyping people by where they come from is handled with great conviction, and is an important one for children. The other message, finding your own place in the world where you will thrive, is also quite compelling.
Most of all, the main character, 14-year-old Miri, brings humor, strength, and good sense to the entire drama. You watch her making some mistakes in judgement and cheer when she gets it right.
I only have one critique of this children’s book, which comes from my own sensitivity. Towards the end, there is a rather scary encounter with bandits which I wish the author could have somehow done without. It was a little too graphic for my taste, but most kids can handle it. I just don’t like meanness in any form.
I recommend this children’s book for ages 11 and up, and particularly for girls. I don’t think boys will relate to the inner life of Miri that well.