Monday, June 21, 2010

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson

The Dragonfly Pool is an Ibbotson classic.

The Dragonfly Pool

Roughly translated, this means: its a warm, fuzzy, intelligent, cozy books to warm your days and capture your imagination. It's a feel-good, the kind of book I read in the same mood as when I read an Enid Blyton book, though I must admit that Ibbotson's books have a little more depth and a lot more relevance. She mostly writes in the time period within or around the second world war, which is not far enough to become archaic and impossible to related to, and not near enough to dispense the 'fairy-tale atmosphere' that this story has. In fact, who can't feel sympathetic for a young girl who is getting sent to boarding school due to the threat of the second world-war on her city - where her friends and family are still going to stay?

And that is exactly how the story of Tally, the heroine of 'The Dragonfly Pool' begins.

Tally is an amazing character. She's sweet, she's caring, she's sensitive and she's sensible. She doesn't thrown tantrums. She cares deeply for her family and friends and will often do crazy things to protect them. She cares enough to notice the importance of an old elm-tree in her new school, and most of all she never pretends to be anyone that she is not. Not even facing the Prince of Bergania is enough to make Tally lose her nerve or her head. In the hands of any other author, I think, Tally would have been one of those hideous mary-sues who can do no wrong, but Ibbotson converts this tricky heroine into a real, breathing girl who does make mistakes, who's determined without being pig-headedly obstinate, and who comes across as inquisitive and sweet instead of obnoxious and meddling.

There are some other great characters in this book - Tally's dad, Doctor Hamilton, who saves people's lives but is altruistic enough to not charge them as much as he can. Matteo, her new biology teacher, who can talk in five languages and who has the most amazing biology lessons ever imaginable. Julia, who suffers from parental neglect and a lot of psychological issues but still comes across as a good friends and a sweet girl, and finally Karil, the hero of our story, Prince of Bergania who wants nothing more than to be with the normal people. In many ways this may seem like a whole bunch of cliches and characters who're too good to be true, but you have to read the scene where Matteo tells Tally that no place in the world is truly all good to know that no, this is not an ordinary story and these are no ordinary characters. The bad characters, though decidedly 'evil' for most part, also have much more depth than most characters in children's fiction do. Scold, for example, is almost sure to be liked, despite being a major irritant to the hero's life.

But the most important part of this book is that is raises some very crucial questions about today's day and age, about how being different can be both a curse and a blessing, and about what is takes to be unique and proud of it. In Elderton, arguably the most unique and crazy school I've ever heard off (surpassing even Whyteleafe) we see what is most beautiful and most ugly about the process of growing up and facing the world - the struggle between conforming to what is normal and doing what you know is right. It's also a book about tolerance, and about the effects of war, and about how not everything is how you thought it was. It's an important book for children to read because of these messages, and they are what change this book from ordinary to above ordinary.

After reading three books by this author (namely The Star of Kazan [also a beautiful book, which you must read, if for nothing else for the gorgeous descriptions of Viennese culture and food and cooking], The Journey to the River Sea[a book about tolerance, dignity and breaking free from your self-imposed prisons[ and The Dragonfly Pool) I have started noticing some repeated themes that come up again and again in her works, like the curious and intelligent heroine (Annika, Maia and now Tally), going away from her home (Annika goes to germany, Maia to south america and Tally to Elderton), the mysterious guy she meets who changes her life(Zed, Finn and Karil) and her other [more-ordinary] friend (Stephen, Clovis and Kenny) who somehow helps her save the day. Of course, there are other differences between these stories, but these have come up enough for me to want to read something new by this author. Hopefully, in her later works (especially for older readers) like A Company of Swans, she changes this formula.

Final thoughts: Sweet, funny, beautiful and with a great message. Every kid should have this book as a companion when they grow up. Ibbotson writes simple stories remarkably well and will occupy a place in my heart (and bookshelves) forever.

The Star of Kazan Journey to the River Sea The Dragonfly Pool


  1. i love this book too...i read it during summer holidays....its beautiful! =)

  2. u have nice taste in books....keep reading....n keep writing....


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