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Monday, May 2, 2016

When Mischief Came to Town, written by Katrina Nannestad. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2015. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"By the time she sits down at the table with a cup of tea for herself and a glass of milk for me, I have gobbled all three pieces of bread. The remaining butter looks like it has been attacked by a hungry troll, and the jam bowl is empty except for a few blackberry seeds clinging to the sides. My cheeks are bulging with the last piece of bread and jam, my tongue is dancing with sugar ... "

We meet Inge aboard a boat on her way to the island where her grandmother lives. It is 1911 and she is ten. As they make landfall, Inge can see her grandmother waiting for her. She knows who she is although she has never met her. Grandmother is the only woman waiting.

It is an inauspicious meeting, as a passenger goat whose softness has allowed a comfortable pillow for a young, unhappy girl has taken advantage while she slept and chewed off one whole braid. It is just the beginning of the trouble she will cause for the old woman and unlikely guardian. They head off to the farm that Inge will now share with her mother's mother.

The fun has really just begun. Inge is a lively, active, mischief maker. She is spirited and impetuous. Her grandmother is not amused by many of her actions, responding with anger and quick slaps that take Inge completely by surprise.

"I think of the horrible misunderstandings with the dancing snowflake that ended with a slap and harsh words. Then I recall how pleased Grandmother seemed when I thanked her for my soup. Perhaps I should learn to be thankful for the good things as they come along, no matter how small. That would show Grandmother that I am a decent girl. It might even make her love me."

Inge is hard not to love! She has such spunk and character. Despite the troubles and shenanigans that often follow closely on her heels, she inches her way into the hearts of some of the islanders, and especially her grandmother's. It takes time. It is her personality that keeps the reader on course and wanting to know what trouble will find her next. Her grandmother is in perfect contrast to Inge's exuberance. She is all business. The farm requires hard work and cooperation. The workload must be shared. Inge has lots to learn, but she finds joy in the animals and some of the people she meets.

The 1911 island town is very different from Copenhagen where Inge lived with her book-loving, gentle mother and their servants. There, she lived with few rules and a loving parent who indulged her strong-willed daughter, encouraging her imagination and opinions. In Bornholm, life is much more traditional - school days are endless, music lessons uninspired, playgrounds and rough play free to boys, not girls. Inge has much to say about it all!

Food and talk of food plays a role and so does humor. It is a perfect book to read aloud in a classroom, or as a family read. I promise there will be lots of laughter, and Inge will steal hearts. Engaging and heartwarming, while also exploring grief and love.

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