CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 18. . . .January 11, 2013
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2012.
211 pp., pbk., $8.99.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Aileen Wortley.
It had started on the very first day, long ago now, when Anna had begun her struggle with the alphabet. To her, many of the letters looked the same. If the letters had stayed still on the page it might have been easier to tell them apart, but when Anna peered at them, they jiggled. She hoped someone else would say something about this. But nobody else did, and Anna was afraid to mention it herself. So she held the book closer and closer, trying to make the letters behave.
Then Frau Schmidt had called her to the front to take her turn reciting what she had learned. The teacher used a pointer to spear letters on the blackboard. "What is this, Anna?" she asked.
Anna did not know. She could not even see it clearly. She stood tongue-tied with shame and didn't make a sound. "Aren't you Anna Solden?" the teacher asked. Anna nodded still unable to speak. "The sister of Rudolf and Gretchen and the twins?" Anna nodded again. Her cheeks burned. "Stand up straight, child, and answer properly. You should say, ‘Yes Frau Schmidt'"
Somehow Anna straightened. "Yes Frau Schmidt," she whispered.
A bundle of sensitivity and apprehension, Anna is the odd one out in her family. While her four siblings are fair, tall, extroverted and capable, Anna appears to be just the opposite. It seems that only Papa sees beyond Anna's awkwardness, her touchiness and her inability to master basic skills. This confidence placed in Anna's potential is sometimes the only hope she has.
Readers meet Anna Solden and her family in pre-war Germany where Papa, recognizing Hitler's threat, ponders how to get his children to a country of safety. As he does so, readers get to know Anna. She is mortified at how often she bumps into things, that she can't read, see the blackboard or master such things as knitting. She hates to be teased by her older siblings, scolded by her teacher and to be a disappointment to her mother. Most of all, it hurts knowing people expect so little of her. She comes to believe she has nothing to offer.
When an uncle dies in Canada and leaves the family his property, a new life begins for everybody, but especially for Anna. Despite her initial fears of learning English and once more being an object of derision, it is in Canada that she finally comes into her own. Diagnosed with a severe visual impairment that accounts for her difficulties, she is sent to a special school where other children have similar issues. Under the tutelage of a wise teacher and with understanding friends, Anna slowly develops self-confidence and begins to achieve that promise seen by her father.
The story is strong, the family setting solid, and the realistic characters will stay in readers' heads long after the book is finished. Any child who has self-doubts will identify with Anna's struggles, and newcomers to Canada will relate to her initial apprehension about her future in a strange land. Older readers may recognize a moment in their own lives when an encouraging adult made a difference.
It is difficult to believe that it has been forty years since From Anna was first published. While it is set in a specific time, the story is ageless in the emotions it addresses and deserves to be embraced by a whole new generation of readers. Written especially for this edition is an afterword by Jean Little who explains how the character of Anna came to be. Readers also learn from biographical notes that the basket that Jean, in the guise of Anna, created now resides in the Osborne Collection. With a heartfelt preface by Katherine Paterson and featuring the illustrations by Joan Sandin that appeared in the original edition by one of Canada's most respected writers, this reprint is as current and fresh as ever. A great read for those aged 8-12.
Aileen Wortley is a retired librarian in Toronto, ON.
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