Awake and Dreaming.
Grades 3 - 6 / Ages 8 - 11.
From then on Theo escaped to that bright world whenever she could. Each of her schools had a library. At first Theo read the first book she grabbed from the shelf. She devoured picture books about George and Martha, chapter books about freckle juice and fried worms, and facts about building igloos and about faraway countries like India. Then one day she picked up Thumbelina and for a whole year she read nothing but fairy tales - thin and fat volumes about Cinderella and the Sleeping Beauty and the Seven Swans.Since Pearson's last three novels, the "Guests of War" trilogy, were all historical fiction, readers may have forgotten that Pearson also wrote a time slip fantasy, A Handful of Time. It is to this genre she returns in Awake and Dreaming. Divided into three "Parts," the book begins with a reader-engaging "Prologue" narrated by a "searching" ghost which has "haunted" a house for 40 years.
Now her favourites were stories about families or stories about magic. Perfect books combined both, like the Narnia chronicles about four children who visited a magic land, or Half Magic, where a family found a coin that granted them half of each wish.
Theo knew the families in these books as well as if they were her own sisters and brothers. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy in Little Women, Paulina, Petrova and Posy in Ballet Shoes, John, Susan, Titty and Roger in the Swallow and Amazons series...
Part One, "Theo," introduces the book's central character, Theo Caffrey, nine and the only child of her unmarried, frequently unemployed 25-year-old mother, Rae. Socially isolated by poverty and frequent moves, Theo has discovered an escape from her unhappy Vancouver life - reading. For Theo, "the only real world was the one in books." Theo's fantasy, to be the middle of five children in a two-parent family, seems unattainable especially when Rae, invited to live with a new boyfriend, decides to ship Theo off to an aunt in Victoria.
In Part Two, "The Family," Theo, while on the Victoria-bound ferry, encounters her "perfect" family, the Kaldors, and wishes on the new moon to belong to them. Her wish is seemingly granted, and for months Theo experiences the all-loving family life she has only read and dreamed about. Eventually, however, the Kaldors can no longer "see" Theo, and she finds herself back on the Victoria ferry.
Part Three, "Cecily" deals with Theo's time with her aunt, reintroduces the ghost, and explains Theo's strange Kaldor experience. In Victoria, Theo rediscovers the Kaldors but discerns they have no recollections of her. While sleeping over at the Kaldor home, Theo encounters the ghost which is actually the spirit of Cecily Stone, an author who died before writing the book she believes she was meant to write, a book about a lonely, unhappy child. In Theo, Cecily has found her story's character, but it will be up to Theo to write the book. Somehow on the ferry, Theo's wish and Cecily's plot had become intertwined. While Theo wants to return to that fantasy family world, Cecily advises her not to avoid the realities about her, but to use it as the stuff of her imagination for "writers are both awake and dreaming."
Right from the "Prologue," with its unanswered question about the ghost's search, the plot propels readers along. Appropriately, Pearson avoids a happy-ever-after ending while leaving readers with some hope that Rae will turn her life around and become a true mother to Theo. Girls in grades 3 to 6 will find Theo to be a wonderfully sympathetic character.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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