Lynn: “Ophelia did not consider herself brave but she was very curious.” So Karen Foxlee introduces the heroine of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (Random/Knopf 2014), eleven-year-old Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard. Ophelia and her older sister Alice have accompanied their father to his new job as curator on an important upcoming museum exhibit in a strange snowy foreign city. The small family is grieving the recent death of Ophelia’s mother and each is managing their grief in a different way. Mr. Whittard is a leading authority on swords and he immerses himself completely in the museum’s upcomng exhibit, barely aware of his daughters. Alice listens to her music at first and then falls under the spell of the gorgeous Miss Kaminski, the museum director, who showers her with beautiful gifts. Ophelia is left to wander the museum alone and it is when she peers through the golden keyhole that she sees an eye looking back. It is the Marvelous Boy, a centuries-old prisoner of Miss Kaminski, actually the Snow Queen. In three days, a protective spell will expire, the Snow Queen will kill the boy and the world will turn to ice and snow. Ophelia must find a way to release him, locate his magical sword and save the world.
Foxlee’s enchanting story is, of course, based on one of my favorite Hans Christian Anderson tales, The Snow Queen. Here Ophelia is a scientific-minded young pragmatist, who clutching her inhaler, must open her heart to magic, love and the power of friendship to learn that she is in fact very brave. Foxlee’s story is wonderfully accessible for young readers, aiding them subtly to discover the rich themes for themselves. The characters are an appealing mix of fantastical and solidly flesh and bone. Sisterly bickering plays off against the delicious wickedness of the Snow Queen while the oblivious father thinks only of the swords that are his academic passion and misery birds and ghost girls inhabit locked museum rooms. The family’s grief lends the story a somewhat melancholy feel that works so well with the fascinating setting of the strange often scary museum and the snowbound city.
There is so much to talk about here but I’ll stop and hand it off to Cindy. This is one I want to read again!
Cindy: The current popularity of the animated Disney film Frozen, should make this an easy sell to middle grade readers. Who can resist a scavenger hunt in a haunted museum when the fate of the world hangs in the balance? Adults who read this aloud for young listeners will be entertained as well. Ophelia is a marvelous character who would rather look at the fossils on display in the museum than spend time in the dollhouse exhibits. At one point in the race to find the Marvelous Boy who has gone missing, Ophelia makes a guess about where to look next, saying, “I have a. . .feeling.” She is taken aback:
“A feeling! She hated saying that. Psychics had feelings. Fortune-tellers and clairvoyants had feelings. Not amateur scientists from the Children’s Science Society of Greater London.”
“Wizards, she thought, when she gained her composure. What good were they if they couldn’t tell you how to do stuff, if they were always talking in riddles and saying they knew everything before it even happened? It wasn’t very helpful.
If she were a wizard, she’d write reports for people. She’d make sure everything was very clear. She’d write, Looking for a magical sword? No problem. Go to the fifth floor, turn left, open a large wooden chest, et cetera, et cetera. She have check boxes. Found your magical sword? Place X here.”
Throughout the adventure Ophelia hears her mother speaking to her: words of advice, encouragement and love. Her mother, though dead, is with her and is rooting for her…as strongly as readers will.