Saturday, February 23, 2008
Thing Of Interest--Violet Bing
I'm afraid I'm very much like Violet Odelia Bing in Violet Bing and The Grand House by Jennifer Paros. My mind is made up about a great many things. I don't care for kids' books about children with funny names like Violet Odelia Bing. As a general rule, I'm not fond of eccentric great aunts (or uncles, for that matter). I think their freaky old houses have been done to death, too. And third-person narrators who speak directly to readers set my teeth on edge.
And, yet, I like Violet Bing. I even like the Grand House she visits.
I think what makes Violet so attractive to me is that she isn't a cute, funny kid. She is an anxious child. She is "against Surprises and Things I Don't Know." She has an objection to every new experience. Such children aren't going to fall into line easily or quickly or--let's be honest, here--maybe even at all. They certainly aren't going to learn a sweet little lesson from an adult, as so many children in books for younger readers do.
Violet refuses to go on vacation with the rest of the family and has to accept staying with her great-aunt who lives in an odd, "Grand House." Usually in kids' books, the child main character goes to visit the great-aunt in her bizarre old lair and is blown away by what she finds there. Not our Violet. Astrid (she's rarely referred to as "aunt," which is a nice touch) tries to entice her with all the house's charms, its "Things of Interest." But Violet will have none of it. "There is nothing of Interest," she says. In what seems to me to be a bit of a role-reversal, Violet is the eccentric relative here.
Violet does begin to loosen up through the intervention of a dog, a neighbor child, and, you might say, a girl much like herself. Oh, and maybe a spider. But the loosening up is slow, as it would be in real life. This reader, at least, was left with the hope that Violet wouldn't change all that much.
Violet Bing and The Grand House sounds as if it might be the beginning of a series. If that's the case, I'm not sure if a less negative Violet will be as engaging as she was in this first book. But in The Grand House she is an intriguing character for readers in the early grades.