Wednesday 8 July 2020

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars by Janeen Brian (Walker Books) ISBN 978-1-760651-87-9 PB $16.99 RRP

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This story is set in the early 1800s in a village called Whittering, which is surrounded by a wall.  Thirteen-year-old Eloise Pail lives at the Children of Paradise orphanage, where she works hard looking after the younger children and carrying buckets of water from the village. Eloise wants to know how she came to be left at the orphanage as a baby in a bucket and why she was never adopted out as a younger child, but every attempt to find out is foiled by the awful head nun Sister Hortense. Constantly in trouble, Eloise’s life is bleak, but she finds solace in the stars and a story about unicorns told to her by the kind nun Sister Genevieve.

Eloise makes friends with the village blacksmith Mr Jackson and his horse Dancy which has a mysterious bump in the centre of its forehead. Mr Jackson tells Eloise about a pond outside the town walls, which many years ago was poisoned by a mysterious beast and Eloise’s interest is piqued. Sister Hortense’s treatment of Eloise’s grows worse: she stops her lessons and locks her in a cupboard. The arrival of Janie, another orphan her age, threatens the small pleasures Eloise has managed to find. But Janie helps Eloise to solve the mystery of the unicorn and Whittering Pond so they can save the village. As Eloise tries to escape the orphanage and find a family, the difficulties mount up, but with a bit of magic and a lot of determination, she finds her way. 

Eloise’s character is incredibly resilient and imaginative. She clings onto magical stories she is told, having the strength of mind to believe they are real even when Sister Hortense says they are of the devil. The reader can feel Eloise’s plight, with her frustrations and her too-small boots which increasingly hurt her feet. The food she is given to eat is delightfully disgusting and includes gruel, tripe, turnips, sheep gizzards and bone soup. Most readers will also find it very satisfying that the despicable Sister Hortense gets what she deserves in the end.

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars with its star-studded blue cover by Tracie Grimwood, is ideal for upper primary readers of middle-grade fantasy fiction.

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