"Annie's Stories," by Cindy Thompson
Tyndale House Publishers Inc.
Carol Stream, Illinois
Children’s stories tend to be written in a simple style. The characters are fairly straightforward – the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad and you usually can tell which is which. The plot is not terribly sophisticated or complex, and there is always a happy ending. Interestingly, the really good children’s books also appeal to adults.
"Annie’s Stories" follows all the rules of what makes a good children’s book. It is, strictly speaking, not a children’s book, although some older children would probably enjoy it. There are no fairies, witches, talking animals or magic, except perhaps the magic that comes from the human heart.
It takes places at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and whether it was in history or not, in this story it was a gentler and simpler time. The language is simple, the characters, while not two-dimensional, are very straight foward, and we see their thoughts and motives and desires as well as their actions. A couple of the major plot moments are a little of the deus ex machina school, but that is completely permissible in a children’s book. Or in this case, a book about stories.
And it is very much a book about stories. The central character, whom we never really get to know, is a seanchaí, an Irish story teller. He wandered the countryside telling stories, many of which he created for his daughter, who travelled with him. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz plays a role in this tale as well. The characters become increasingly compelling, and the plot, though occasionally contrived, catches the imagination. I confess I found it a slow read at the beginning, but by the end of the book I was upset when I was interrupted as things were coming to a climax.
Annie, our heroine, whose story we learn both by direct narrative and flashbacks, has come to the U.S. When her father died, leaving her with no inheritance but some of his stories that he had written down for her, she went to a workhouse where a friendly priest rescued her and sent her to America to live with his sister. The sister, Mrs. Hawkins, runs a boarding house, which lets other characters enter the story easily. Those include a German girl (and eventually her brother), another young woman, Annie’s cousin, and others who come on errands and business, including Stephen, the postman, who ends up playing a pivotal role in the whole proceedings. The evil forces are represented by a Pinkerton detective and the possibility of social disapproval. (I said it was a simpler time.)
I won’t try to give you any more of the plot, because the way it unfolds is part of the charm of the work.
It is not great literature, but it is a good read. I doubt I will go back and read it again, but I am very pleased that I read it once. It’s no "Wizard of Oz," but it is a book worth a place on your bookshelf, and one you can recommend to a young reader with no reservations. If you are reading it with a child, or if you are someone who likes to be gently challenged when you read, there are a series of discussion questions at the end of the book.
I was disappointed that although we heard about the father’s stories throughout, and everyone who read the stories he had written loved them and was excited by them, we readers were never permitted to share that experience. I think the author missed a bet by not giving us at least one of the tales in the style of the Irish seanchaí, either incorporated in the plot or as an appended item at the end.
As I said, I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but I can tell you this – they all lived happily ever after.