The Gist: Charmain had led a very sheltered life and for the first time is allowed to do things as she wishes–whether they be respectable or not.
Story Review: Charmain isn’t allowed to do anything that according to her mother is not respectable– this means Charmain never learns to cook (although her father is the best cook in town), do dishes, or wash laundry and until Charmain meets Peter while housesitting she doesn’t realize that there are a great many useful things one cannot learn in a book. However because of this limited perspective she has courage to try things no one else would (like volunteering to help in the Royal Library) and she is resourceful enough to know where to find help (getting cookbooks from her father since Peter is also a little sheltered and neither of them know how to cook).
I like that as Charmain is around more people she begins to recognize things in herself–like trying to be nicer to and more patient with Peter. One of my favorite descriptions of Charmain paints her perfectly as an analytical overthinker stating “She knew there was earth under the plants and that the earth contained worms. She shuddered.” I also liked that Charmain has absolutely no interest in getting married, in fact at one point a spell comes up to give her a handsome prince and her first thought is along the lines of what would I want with one of those? Even though I know not every fictional female character is itching to get married (or in a love standoff… I mean, love triangle), lately it feel like that’s all I’ve been reading.
Overall the book is a fun romp for its age group (middle schoolers) and much like in Jones’ other Howl’s Moving Castle ‘sequel’ Castle in the Air Sophie and Howl (the main characters from Howl’s Moving Castle) are supporting characters in this book. It’s a fun way to give the story a broader backstory while also getting to explore new characters (that coincidentally are much closer to the age range of the intended audience).
Immersion Activity Ideas:
Be courageous for 30 seconds and something great will happen (alright I stole the wording from We Bought A Zoo, but it just so happens to work for the book as well)
Read a book
Discover and create an adventure outside of books
Cook for yourself (relatively from scratch, microwaving a Hot Pocket doesn’t count)
Wash dishes (not in a machine)
Wash laundry (not in a machine)
Create you own family tree (resplendent with interesting notes about the family members)
Adopt a dog (or let a dog adopt you)
Don’t let no knowledge stand in your way of trying