by Eva Ibbotson, published 2004
“The world was so beautiful in those days, Annika. The music, the flowers, the scent of the pines…” “It still is,” said Annika. “Honestly, it still is.”
Just when I thought I’d read every children’s book by Eva Ibbotson, my friend Ellen, who really knows what children love, told me about The Star of Kazan. So I set out to read it, and found myself staying up practically all night just to finish it. It’s that kind of book. Filled with unexpected twists and turns, with terrific characters, and with a cliff-hanger, but happy, ending, this children’s book is terrific from start to finish.
Many of Ibbotson’s books are filled with her wacky British sense of humor. However, this children’s book is more like her Journey to the River Sea; it is a weighty, thoughtful, serious book, where the important elements are the characters and the choices that they make.
The book is set in 19th century Vienna, which in some ways this book qualifies as historical fiction. It gives us a glimpse into the old world. Yet the story transcends the place setting, as it is addresses the question, who is my mother? There is an element in this children’s book which could upset some people, as 12-year-old Annika makes the decision to leave her adopted mother when her real mother appears. Yet Ibbotson uses the story to help us see the conflict that a child who has longed for her birth mother might go through.
The book has everything – loyalty, unselfish love, greed, deception. In my opinion, it’s not a book for young children, even though the publisher lists it as age 8 and up. I think it is more appropriate for 12 and up.