I’ve been looking forward to Strawberry Hill. We love Ms. Hoberman’s picture book, The Seven Silly Eaters, especially since there are seven siblings in the story, and seven siblings in our home. From what I’d heard, Strawberry Hill was a sweet, simple novel, reminiscent of mid-20th century tales like Betsy-Tacy and All-of-a-Kind-Family. (Not that I’ve read either of those classics, much to my shame.)
When Jeanne Birdsall wrote The Penderwicks, I was exceeding glad to see “unpretentious” making a return, but the book didn’t bowl me over. It’s the same with Strawberry Hill. I’m happy to have an age-appropriate new release to hand to nine-year-old patrons, but the story isn’t going on my Best of 2009 list, as I had hoped it might.
When ten-year-old Allie learns that her family will be moving from a two-family home to their very own house, she’s hesitant until she finds out they will be living on a street with the magical name of Strawberry Hill. That changes everything! But strawberries aren’t the only thing Allie will have to look for in her new neighborhood. From her struggle to find a new best friend to her quest for acceptance at her new school, Allie takes readers on her journey to make Strawberry Hill feel like home.
There were many things to like about Strawberry Hill.
The prose: “I was especially careful with the three teacups my grandmother had brought over with her from Russia long ago. Once there had been twelve of them, my mother told me, but all the others had broken. They were so thin that the light shone through them. And they had borders of tiny pink roses and rims of gold that were almost worn away.”
Small details that paint a vivid picture: “She lives over there.” Martha pointed across the street to a green house with a big front yard. “They hardly ever mow the grass.”
True-to-life characters. Allie is in fourth grade, and she acts like a fourth grader. Hopscotch, paper dolls, chocolate milk and popsicles. The people around her are not without flaws. Her mother worried “about money, about how expensive everything was and how we couldn’t afford to buy things. Sometimes when my father brought back a present for us from Stamford, instead of being happy, she got mad at him.”
Allie reading Mary Poppins aloud over the telephone when her friend has scarlet fever and can’t receive visitors. I liked that a lot.
And there are spots of humor: “Martha said nobody went to heaven except Catholics.... “Don’t listen to all that hogwash,” [my father] said. “Jews go to heaven just like everyone else. We probably even go more because we’re the chosen people. But we don’t brag about it.”
So while I’d hoped Strawberry Hill would be another Penderwicks on Gardam Street—a story I could wave in front of me as I chased down random strangers and begged them to please, please read it!—at least I got another Penderwicks: a breath-of-fresh-air story I can recommend to little girls without a single qualm.
Publication date: July 2009. ARC courtesy of Little, Brown