Thursday, June 14, 2012

Palmer's Picks: Wise Child by Monica Furlong

Hi guys! My name's Palmer, and I work in the Young Adult Services department of the Charleston County Public Library. I love graphic novels, root beer floats and thunderstorms (and flip glasses). I also love finding truly awesome books and sharing them with you avid readers! Remember to click on any title to put it on hold.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a good amount of time sitting in class or studying for tests, bored out of your mind and desperately wishing that school was a whole lot more like Hogwarts.“I’d be acing this class if it was Defense Against the Dark Arts,” you might’ve thought while trying not to drift off to sleep. "Writing a paper on ways to ward off werewolves is way more interesting than studying stupid plant cells! And why can’t I be learning how to make love potions instead of memorizing the dumb ol’ periodic table?”

Trust me, I understand.

Wise Child
The idea of a magical education is something that has filled me with longing ever since I began reading the Harry Potter series. Something I hadn’t imagined, however, was the kind of magical education the late Monica Furlong brings to life in Wise Child--something I like to call "magical homeschooling."

Instead of attending a magical academy housed in a sprawling castle and modeled largely after the English private boarding school system, Wise Child, the heroine of Furlong’s book of the same name, is taken in by her village’s resident healer and (suspected) witch when her father fails to return from a long voyage on the high seas. Living with Juniper means a whole new world of education and responsibility for Wise Child (the local nickname for youngsters who are a little too clever for their own good).

The magical homeschooling in Wise Child is a bit of far cry from the Divination and Charms classes that fill the days of the students at Hogwarts. Juniper’s particular brand of magic is something a touch more realistic--that is, she emphasizes the study of herbs and their properties, the value of learning to speak and write in English and Latin, and familiarizing oneself with the movement of the stars.

Monica Furlong
While not quite as flashy as learning the finer points of the Unforgivable Curses, the connection with nature and practical knowledge that Juniper seeks to instill in Wise Child is refreshing. It’s a feeling that anyone, magical or not, can appreciate if they’ve ever begun to care for a garden or felt the satisfaction of finishing a great book or a difficult task.

Juniper’s world is certainly magical, but that magic is something subtler and more earthy than the wand-waving we’ve come to associate with magical ability. Juniper doesn’t refer to herself as a witch, but rather as a doran. Derived from the Gaelic word dorus, meaning entrance or way, a doran is someone who can see the pattern and energy in all things. As Wise Child’s experiences while living with Juniper become increasingly supernatural, we learn that she has potential to become a doran herself, should she choose to.

Standing stones are vital to Wise Child's magical education.
WiseChild’s world is rooted somewhere between historical fiction and fantasy. The Scottish or Irish village that provides the setting for much of the action has one foot in Christianity and one foot in the old beliefs of the Celtic druids. Standing stones and faeries hold as much sway over the minds of the villagers as do the local priest’s sermons during Sunday mass. 

Finding the balance between these two, and learning that she can believe in both, is part of WiseChild’s twofold struggle during the course of the book. The other is learning where her heart lies--with Juniper’s lessons of hard work, caring, and knowledge, or with her biological mother, a mysterious and fantastically beautiful woman called Maeve the Fair (a sorceress in her own right) who reappears in Wise Child's life bearing promises of a life of luxury should Wise Child leave Juniper and join her. 

Wise Child is as lush and lovely a story as any reader could hope to find, with plenty of magic and real-world wisdom to boot!

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