It is questionable if children of today will relate to this story.
Janeen Brian is an award-winning children’s author from South Australia. She has had over 100 books published, from picture books to novels and poetry. Her topics are as diverse as her genres. Two of her most popular picture books are probably Silly Galah! and Where does Thursday go?
Eloise & the Bucket of Stars is a book in a genre Brian calls “magical realism”.It is the story of Eloise Pail, a 12-year-old girl who has spent her life living in an orphanage. It is set in the small village of Whittering in the early 1800s.
Whittering is a village with town criers, blacksmiths, wigmakers and a village gate that is shut each night. For Eloise, each day is spent doing back-breaking chores: collecting water at the town pump in wooden buckets, cleaning the privies, getting the littlies dressed each morning, doing the dishes, and weeding the vegetable gardens. Life is far from easy for Eloise and she watches other children come and go as they are adopted into families. She is left wondering why she has never been given the same opportunity.
In this orphanage there are three nuns who look after the children, plus Sully the cook. In charge, is Sister Hortense, a forbidding woman who goes out of her way to make life very difficult for Eloise. She is downright scary! Eloise has no friends but there is Sister Genevieve, the nun who tries to make life just a little bit easier for her. In her dreams, Eloise has a family who loves her. She also talks to the stars and dreams of unicorns.
Eloise & the Bucket of Stars starts well but misses the mark. There are several story arcs, some of which don’t go anywhere, for example, the bump on her head. At least half of the story is just her daily life with too much time spent on daily chores and the food cooked by Sully. The new character of Janie could have been introduced much earlier. I wanted to know more about the wall and the wonderful tree in the yard of the orphanage; Mr Jackson, the wigmaker and the town crier have back stories that would have been interesting to discover; and the story also finishes very abruptly with loose ends that could have been tied up. The story of why Eloise was in the orphanage also needed more than a quick explanation in the last couple of pages.
The unicorn story arc was interesting but was too quick and missed the magical feel. The discovery of a mystery, and Eloise’s fear of making friends and working out who to trust was enjoyable to follow however. Brian does paint a wonderful picture of the orphanage and its daily life. It just could have been shorter.
It is questionable if children of today will relate to a story about a child in an orphanage who uses a “privy” and eats tripe. It’s an interesting idea but Eloise & the Bucket of Stars doesn’t quite deliver.
Reviewed by Sue Mauger
Distributed by: Walker Books Australia
Released: June 2020