Donnelly, Elfie 1950-
English-born Austrian author of young adult novels and picture books.
The following entry presents an overview of Donnelly's career through 1988.
Donnelly has developed an international reputation for her series of young adult novels, originally written in German and translated into English. She has been noted for her frank, sensitive, and warm-hearted portrayals of the complex relationships between pre-teen children and adults. Servus Opa, sagte ich leise (1977; So Long, Grandpa) examines the bond between a ten-year-old boy and his terminally-ill grandfather. Der rote Strumpf (1982; Offbeat Friends; also published as Odd Stockings) concerns the unusual friendship between an eleven-year-old girl and a mental hospital escapee. Tine durch zwei geht nicht (1982; Tina into Two Won't Go) explores the subject of children caught in custody conflicts. Although Donnelly is a prolific author in Austria and the creator of the popular German-language children's books series Benjamin Blümchen and Bibi Blocksberg, only four of her works currently appear in English translation.
Donnelly was born in London, England, in 1950, to an English father and an Austrian mother. At the age of five, Donnelly moved to Vienna, Austria. She worked as a journalist for the Austrian press agency and later wrote for a German wire service. During the 1980s, Donnelly wrote and produced radio plays for children before writing her first children's book. Donnelly's works have been translated into multiple languages, and her Benjamin Blümchen and Bibi Blocksberg series have spawned a number of successful German audiobooks. There have been two major German feature films based on her works—Bibi Blocksberg (2002), directed by Hermine Hunt-geburth, and Bibi Blocksberg und das Geheimnis der blauen Eulen (2004), directed by Franziska Buch. Benjamin Blümchen was also adapted into a popular animated television series. Donnelly was awarded the 1979 German Children's Book Prize for So Long, Grandpa.
Donnelly's first work to be translated into English, So Long, Grandpa, is a youth novel set in Vienna, Austria. The protagonist—ten-year-old Michael Nidetzky—tells the story of his relationship with his seventy-nine-year-old grandfather, who is dying of cancer. Grandpa dotes on young Michael, often constructing elaborate tall tales with Michael as the lead character. Through his narration, Michael describes the varied responses of his mother, father, and sister to Grandpa's ill-health and eventual death. Donnelly creates a realistic and complex portrayal of Michael's family dynamics during such a difficult period, showing the family's anger and frustration in having to care for Grandpa, while also conveying their sadness at his passing. Following the funeral, Michael reads a letter that Grandpa had left for him and realizes that his grandfather "isn't really dead, not as long as someone is thinking of him." Offbeat Friends, also set in Vienna, describes the unique friendship between eleven-year-old Mari and seventy-eight-year-old Mrs. Panacek, an eccentric resident of a mental hospital. Mari and Mrs. Panacek meet on a park bench and soon realize that they are kindred spirits. When Mrs. Panacek runs away from the hospital ward, Mari sneaks the old woman into her bedroom for the night. Mari's parents are shocked to discover this unexpected guest the next morning, but soon decide to care for Mrs. Panacek as if she were a part of the family. In Donnelly's Tina into Two Won't Go, eleven-year-old Tina, whose parents are divorced, is kidnapped by her father, Karl, and taken on a three-week Christmas vacation to the island of Gomera, while Tina's mother, Angelica, is left home with Tina's younger brother. In the book's conclusion, Tina's parents negotiate a truce regarding the custody of their children. Tina into Two Won't Go is narrated from alternating points-of-view, fluctuating between Tina's first-person account of her experiences and a third-person narration describing the perspectives of Karl and Angelica. In A Package for Miss Marshwater (1987), an illustrated picture book, the excessively ladylike Miss Marshwater receives a birthday gift of two duck-billed platypuses from her cousin in Australia. The platypuses, named A and Bea, inspire Miss Marshfield to become more relaxed and enjoy life for the first time since she was a little girl. Together, Miss Marshfield and her new pets play the harpsichord, eat massive quantities of kiwi fruit, and have a great deal of fun.
Donnelly's youth novels have been celebrated for their honesty and sensitivity in exploring the complex relationships between adults and children. So Long, Grandpa has been applauded for its tactful handling of death in a family as well as its moving, and often entertaining, depiction of the loving relationship between a boy and his grandfather. Sally Holmes Holtze has remarked that, "[w]hat sets this affecting book apart from contrived bibliotherapy is the frank, authentic portrayal of emotions and tensions within the family." Additionally, Offbeat Friends has attracted acclaim for similar reasons, with reviewers citing Donnelly's empathetic and amusing portrayal of the bond between a child and a mentally-ill senior citizen. However, although Tina into Two Won't Go addresses difficult subject matter in the same manner as So Long, Grandpa and Offbeat Friends, Donnelly's third English-language work has failed to win the same critical acceptance as the author's previous two works. Some have criticized the narrative style of Tina into Two Won't Go, faulting Donnelly's use of jarring shifts in viewpoints, choppy plot development, and uneven narrative voice. While some reviewers have found Donnelly's picture book A Package for Miss Marshwater both lively and entertaining, others have argued that the story strains for effect. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review of A Package for Miss Marshwater has stated that, "[a]lthough there's some redeeming humor, the creatures seem a bit cutesy and the story contrived."
Servus Opa, sagte ich leise [So Long, Grandpa] (young adult novel) 1977
Der rote Strumpf [Offbeat Friends] (young adult novel) 1982; published in the United Kingdom as Odd Stockings
Tine durch zwei geht nicht [Tina into Two Won't Go] (young adult novel) 1982
A Package for Miss Marshwater [illustrations by Ute Krause] (picture book) 1987
SERVUS OPA, SAGTE ICH LEISE (1977;
SO LONG, GRANDPA)
Children's Book Review Service (review date spring
SOURCE: Review of So Long, Grandpa, by Elfie Donnelly. Children's Book Review Service 9, no. 12 (spring 1981): 106.
Text Not Available
Sally Holmes Holtze (review date May 1981)
SOURCE: Holtze, Sally Holmes. Review of So Long, Grandpa, by Elfie Donnelly. School Library Journal 27, no. 9 (May 1981): 63.
Gr. 3-6—Michael Nidetzky's mother nags and his sister Linda tattles [in So Long, Grandpa ]; his favorite family member is 79-year-old nonconformist Grandpa, who presides in his cluttered room in the Nidetzky house and tells stories starring Michael. But Grandpa is dying of cancer, and Michael can barely believe it. The pain of terminal illness is neither ignored nor dwelled upon. What sets this affecting book apart from contrived bibliotherapy is the frank, authentic portrayal of emotions and tensions within the family: Linda asks for Grandpa's room before he dies; Mother is overheard complaining about Grandpa; and even Michael is occasionally irritated by him, A moving letter from Grandpa, left to Michael after Grandpa dies, is indicative of why this book succeeds: the author has made real the loving relationship between a ten-year-old boy and his grandfather, soon to be separated by death.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 August 1981)
SOURCE: Review of So Long, Grandpa, by Elfie Donnelly. Kirkus Reviews 49, no. 15 (1 August 1981): 934.
[In So Long, Grandpa, ] Michael is a little boy who loves his grandfather. The grandfather, who lives with the family, is dying of cancer. As the story progresses, Grandfather tells Michael stories, leaves home temporarily because of his daughter-in-law's (Michael's mother's) ungracious complaints, jokes with Michael about death and dying, and steadily deteriorates. After his death, Michael grieves for a while, then realizes that "he isn't really dead, not as long as someone is still thinking of him." The conclusion is standard, but the process is observed with unstinting honesty. Michael's feelings for his grandfather come across, and so do his mother's impatience with the old man and her undue concern for appearances. A German prize winner, this connects in any language.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review
date September 1981)
SOURCE: Review of So Long, Grandpa, by Elfie Donnelly. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 35, no. 1 (September 1981): 7.
Translated from the German, [So Long, Grandpa is] a candid and touching story of a child's first experience with the death of a beloved family member is told convincingly by ten-year-old Michael. He has a deep love for his grandfather, who lives with them, and is taken aback when his father tells him that Grandpa has cancer. Grandpa is impatient with euphemisms, and tells Michael he dislikes such evasions as "passing on," he wants no pretense. Grandpa's pain increases, he loses weight, and then he dies. Michael mourns, but Grandpa himself has helped Michael prepare for death, has made it easier to accept the fact that he had had a happy life and recognized the simple inevitability of death. This is a purposive book, but the author is honest about the purpose and perceptive in describing the adjustment made by the dying and by those around them.
Denise M. Wilms (review date 1 September 1981)
SOURCE: Wilms, Denise M. Review of So Long, Grandpa, by Elfie Donnelly. Booklist 78, no. 1 (1 September 1981): 44.
Gr. 5-7—Michael feels close to his grandfather and takes special pleasure in being with him [in So Long, Grandpa ]. When he learns that his grandfather is dying, it makes those times all the more important. And when death finally comes, Michael is able to find comfort in the memory of shared times. Donnelly's moving portrait of Michael and his grandfather also includes spare but salient depictions of other family members: a shallow, harping mother who resents the burden grandpa is becoming, a father who is dutiful, a sister who seems self-absorbed but is unexpectedly comforting when Michael needs her. The present-tense text is oddly flavored, a result, no doubt, of translation: this is set in Austria.
Curriculum Review (review date February 1982)
SOURCE: Review of So Long, Grandpa, by Elfie Donnelly. Curriculum Review 21, no. 1 (February 1982): 34.
Ten-year-old Michael Nidetsky's relationship with his grandfather has always been special [in So Long, Grandpa ]. Thus, Michael has great difficulty in coming to terms with his grandfather's imminent death. Set in Vienna, this well-written novel addresses universal questions of death and dying. Although the reading level varies from fourth to fifth grade, the interest level ranges from fifth to ninth.
Language Arts (review date May 1982)
SOURCE: Review of So Long, Grandpa, by Elfie Donnelly. Language Arts 59, no. 5 (May 1982): 485.
If any book could be about death and be entertaining, [So Long, Grandpa ] is it. The ongoing anecdotal narrative places the reader right in ten-year-old Michael's shoes as he describes the decline of his loving grandfather. The conglomeration of modern and outmoded slang, plus the Viennese names and expressions charm, even as they tip the reader that this is a translation. The family—older sister, father, mother, maid Frau Novotny, Dr. Gnad, and the thoroughly believable young hero seem as real as next-door-neighbors. Scenes at the Grand Canary Islands and the first of two funerals evoke chuckles, as Grandpa, the book's real star, comments on life and death. Filled with love, Donnelly's first book does much to dispel fears and break unnatural silences.
DER ROTE STRUMPF (1982; OFFBEAT
FRIENDS; PUBLISHED IN THE UNITED
KINGDOM AS ODD STOCKINGS)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 June 1982)
SOURCE: Review of Offbeat Friends, by Elfie Donnelly. Kirkus Reviews 50, no. 11 (1 June 1982): 635-36.
The first thing Mari notices [in Offbeat Friends ] about the old woman on the park bench is her unmatched socks. Aware of Mari's attention, the woman explains that she wears the red one because that foot gets cold. And so begins the friendship between 11-year-old Mari and dotty Mrs. Panacek, who freely admits that she is "crazy" and a resident of the local "loony bin." Soon Mrs. Panacek is telling Mari about her mean son-in-law, who beats his wife and has used lawyers to gain ownership of Mrs. Panacek's fish store. Mrs. P. also believes that the son-in-law is trying to poison her, and when he visits her in the home the old woman is so frightened that she runs away. Mari finds her two days later and sneaks her into her own room for the night. Before the woman is returned to the home two days after that, Mari's parents have decided to become her visiting "family" and to take her on monthly outings. There are some mildly funny scenes, all based on initial shock reaction to Mrs. Panacek—as when Mari first tells her parents of her new friend; when the parents discover their unconventional houseguest at 6:30 a.m.; and when a disapproving Granny clucks at Mrs. P.'s table manners only to have Mari, Mother, and Father follow their guest's example. Though the fugitive Mrs. Panacek is described as grimy and smelly, and though we see her squat to "wee-wee" in public at the zoo, this softer story lacks the sense of unstinting observation that distinguished Donnelly's So Long, Grandpa. It's all a bit sentimental; but then so are most such stories, and Donnelly's light touch makes it palatable.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review
date July-August 1982)
SOURCE: Review of Offbeat Friends, by Elfie Donnelly. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 35, no. 11 (July-August 1982): 205.
Eleven-year-old Mari meets an eccentric old woman [in Offbeat Friends ], Mrs. Panacek, sitting on a park bench and is later baffled by the hostility her parents show when she tells them about her new friend. Mrs. Panacek is dowdy, confused, and often irrational in her conversation, but Mari finds her touching and lovable. When the old woman runs away from the mental institution where she lives, convinced that her son-in-law wants to kill her, Mari sneaks Mrs. Panacek into her bedroom. Naturally, this is discovered, but the woman's plight touches Mari's parents also, and they kindly, gently take charge. A competent, smooth translation brings out the distinctive writing style and the sensitivity in the author's portrayal of the offbeat friends. This deftly structured story was first published in Germany under the title Der rote Strumpf.
Children's Book Review Service (review date August
SOURCE: Review of Offbeat Friends, by Elfie Donnelly. Children's Book Review Service 10, no. 14 (August 1982): 137.
Text Not Available
Wendy Dellett (review date August 1982)
SOURCE: Dellett, Wendy. Review of Offbeat Friends, by Elfie Donnelly. School Library Journal 28, no. 10 (August 1982): 114.
Gr. 3-6—In a modern Austrian city, 11-year-old Mari befriends eccentric Mrs. Panacek, an elderly patient from a mental hospital [in Offbeat Friends ]. Mrs. P. is harmless, but paranoid: she believes that her son-in-law is trying to poison her. After a series of exhausting adventures with the runaway Mrs. P., Mari and her sympathetic parents decide to make the neglected woman part of their family. They promise to visit her often and take her on regular excursions, bringing love and cheer into her dreary existence. The foreign atmosphere is intriguing with references to sausages in goulash sauce, apricot cake, semolina dumplings, café gardens, and dressmakers who sew communion dresses for little girls. Some of the ambiance is not so appealing: nasty odors abound; there is a general fear of other people; Mrs. P. squats and urinates on the sidewalk at the zoo. The slovenliness of some of the characters may be puzzling to American children, but fascinated 10-year-olds will be amused and comforted by allusions to adults spilling food or neglecting to brush their teeth. The story is original and the characters believably fallible. Mrs. P. just wants to be herself and "they" won't let her; Mari often feels the same way. Life improves when people take the time to care about each other. With good philosophy and well-presented, Offbeat Friends should be as popular as Donnelly's earlier So Long, Grandpa (Crown, 1981), another story about the relationship between the very young and the very old.
Growing Point (review date September 1982)
SOURCE: Review of Odd Stockings, by Elfie Donnelly. Growing Point 21, no. 3 (September 1982): 3944, 3947.
Learning is a gradual process, never more so than when an individual is beginning to shape personal inclinations to fit into a community. The lesson begins at home, where each family sets its own pattern, so that a child moving into the adult world carries group as well as personal assumptions with him. In The Magic Mitre, for example, the three Hodge children would take with them a matter-of-fact attitude to religious ceremonial which might surprise their peers. It is not every small girl whose vicar father becomes a bishop but the Hodge siblings, intrigued by the fact that there was only one mitre left in the shop which fitted their father, were even more surprisingly involved when five-year-old Em came to believe this special object had unusual powers. Anyone who has watched a bishop opening his cardboard head-piece with one sharp punch at the outset of a confirmation service will take the events of this lively domestic anecdote quite calmly.
Louie and Glenda were best friends mainly because they were near neighbours but Louie hardly realised this until Glenda moved away and failed to play her part in Louie's ingenious arrangements for their continued relationship. The Dead Letter Box has a serious theme carried on extremely natural dialogue and light humour in a story with a neat shape. Louie's letter-box is the front slot in a certain story—book in the children's library—a book which, since it was last taken out more than four years before, seems safe enough. As Glenda fails to find the letter, it hardly matters that a newcomer, sympathising with an author who is apparently never read, upsets Louie's plan, especially as scholarly Jane invents a splendid new game which reduces the library to mild chaos. Jan Mark's sparkling, selective and notably concrete prose makes simplicity a virtue. Louie's dreamy turn of mind is stirred as she listens to Gran, once a cleaner at the library, discussing such unusual bookmarks as a kipper bone and a rasher of streaky bacon and commenting that it would be cheaper nowadays to eat books:
Louie imagined a paperback lying like a slice of bread in the frying pan, between two tomato halves and an egg. The fat began to bubble … The book sizzled. Its pages opened and closed a few times, then turned brown and curled up crisply along the edges, Fried book: she could almost taste it.
We need far more books of this kind—alert, individual yet wholly accessible for children to cut their teeth on, once they are reading fluently, so that without realising it they acquire the rudiments of a sense of literary quality.
A certain amount of punching and hair-tearing went on as Emily and Sara came to terms with one another but their fights seem meek indeed when compared with the almost incessant bouts of fisticuffs and scratching that punctuate the events of The Lily Pickle Band Book. This rumbustious tale of a Nottinghamshire town is told by Lily Pickle, who is ambitious for the success of the band started by ex-army Mr. Kendal, but who breaks up more than one rehearsal by pursuing her long feud with huge, uncouth Mavis Jervis and her side-kick Peggy, known as 'Awful Warning'. Lily and her ally E. H. (a boy bent on living up to his name, Elvis) work hard if intermittently at kazoo, tambourine and drum, with a local contest in mind, and what little time is left from fights and rehearsals is spent in enthusiastically sponsoring the budding romance of Mr. Kendal and his assistant Mrs. Harris. This rough-edged, headlong sequence of melodramatic situations must be read at a gulp if it is to be enjoyed properly.
The reverse treatment is needed for Odd Stockings, a book that needs to be read slowly and with enough discernment for the unusual relationship to be understood between Austrian Mari and old Mrs. Panacek, whom she first notices in the park because she is wearing one black cotton stocking and one red knitted one. The unexpected friendship is described in easy, limpid prose in which all manner of domestic details throw into relief Mari's puzzled delight at an old woman whose shop-lifting appears to be permitted, and Mrs. Panacek's pleasure at finding an enthusiastic audience for complaints about her ungrateful son and daughter-in-law. Mari has no doubts at all when Mrs. Panacek absconds from the Home where her family has stowed her, but the old woman's presence in the girl's bedroom is quickly detected and Mari accepts her parents' explanation of life as it is and not what it ideally should be. A casual meeting with a grown-up can have an incalculable influence on a child: Elfie Donnelly has explored one particular alliance with shrewd, unsentimental sympathy.
On the contrary, sentimentality is the beginning, middle and end of Annie, the 'book of the musical' which in its turn was based on the strip-story of the Depression years in America. Beside the saccharine utterances of this tough little Polyanna, the repellent screams of Miss Harrigan the orphanage dragon and the laconic utterances of multi-millionaire Mr. War-bricks, the cosy sentiments of that classic orphan tale, Daddy-long-legs, seem a miracle of artistic moderation. Moreover, Jean Webster's tale, bland and sweet as it was, had the saving grace of genuine humour extracted from situation and character together, while Annie is box-office marshmallow from start to finish. In theory, this is the story of a child who achieves independence in a cruel world: in practice, it is a wish-tale of the most deceptive king. Artistically, the book is so profuse in its statements of character and so sparse in any real character-development that one can imagine it being assembled paragraph by paragraph from an annotated acting script. The abrupt switch from poverty-stricken streets to a rich mansion, the filmic villainy of Miss Harrigan and her disreputable brother, the jovial intervention of no less than the President of the United States (he and Annie hatch up the New Deal together)—these and other elements go to make up what must be this year's most obnoxious best-seller.
Ilene Cooper (review date 15 February 1983)
SOURCE: Cooper, Ilene. Review of Offbeat Friends, by Elfie Donnelly. Booklist 79, no. 12 (15 February 1983): 776.
Gr. 4-6—This English translation [of Offbeat Friends ] from the German concerns an 11-year-old Viennese girl, Mari, who befriends Mrs. Panacek, an old lady who lives at a mental home. The two meet on a park bench, and from the moment Mrs. Panacek tells Mari her red sock is warmer than her black sock, the child is intrigued. They keep running into each other, at first by chance, later by design; and Mari learns to cope with a number of Mrs. Panacek's idiosyncrasies, including the woman's fear that she is being poisoned by her son-in-law. When Mrs. Panacek runs away from the home, Mari harbors the old lady overnight in her apartment, where she is discovered by the girl's amazed parents. They, however, are touched by Mrs. Panacek's vulnerability, too, and soon the whole family has reached out to help her. Sensitively written with strong characterizations and many realistic touches, this should have wide appeal for American audiences.
Chris Brown (review date March 1983)
SOURCE: Brown, Chris. Review of Odd Stockings, by Elfie Donnelly. School Librarian 31, no. 1 (March 1983): 54.
Eleven-year-old Mari [in Odd Stockings ] meets an elderly woman who wears one black stocking and one red one. She is Mrs Panacek from the local mental hospital, and she takes little steps as if she were walking a tightrope without any rope. Mari has a very practical sympathy with the old lady—'she's not psychologically disturbed, she's mad'—which leads her to recognise, and act upon, the responsibilities of the friendship. The resolution of Mari's problem is achieved in a touching, amusing and, above all, convincing story. Nothing is glossed over, but the way in which incidents are simply related, simply explained, and simply acted upon creates a sense of wonder and empathy. A lovely book.
Language Arts (review date May 1983)
SOURCE: Review of Offbeat Friends, by Elfie Donnelly. Language Arts 60, no. 5 (May 1983): 647.
Eleven-year-old Mari catches her parents off-guard [in Offbeat Friends ] when she befriends an elderly mental patient and smuggles her into their home. A bit far-fetched, even for a heroine who looks for "Coincidences." Realism, as contrasted with Mari's perceptions, is neither as stark nor as bleak. The parents' conversion comes too quickly. A good look at modern Vienna.
TINE DURCH ZWEI GEHT NICHT (1982;
TINA INTO TWO WON'T GO)
Children's Book Review Service (review date
SOURCE: Review of Tina into Two Won't Go, by Elfie Donnelly. Children's Book Review Service 12, no. 1 (September 1983): 8.
Text Not Available
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review
date November 1983)
SOURCE: Review of Tina into Two Won't Go, by Elfie Donnelly. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 37, no. 3 (November 1983): 46.
Translated from the German, [Tina into Two Won't Go ] is the story of a father, Karl, who kidnaps eleven-year-old Tina, leaving his divorced wife, Angelica, and their six-year-old son to spend Christmas alone. En route from the Tenerife airport to the island of Gomera for their three week vacation, Karl and Tina meet Inge, who is there with her planned-for illegitimate child; it is Inge who helps when Karl loses his wallet and decides to break the stay and take his unhappy daughter back to her mother. There's a tearfully happy reunion, and the book ends—realistically—with a short truce. The shifting of brief (at times just a page and a half) sections that present Angelica's or Karl's viewpoints or give Tina's in first person, is at times jarring, and the translation of dialogue is uneven in quality; characterization is adequate, although both parents are depicted as being so immature as to be occasionally nebulous. The strength of the story is the candor with which Donnelly depicts the ambivalence and the imperfect adjustment to divorce of all the major characters.
Kathleen Brachmann (review date December 1983)
SOURCE: Brachmann, Kathleen. Review of Tina into Two Won't Go, by Elfie Donnelly. School Library Journal 30, no. 4 (December 1983): 64.
Gr. 5-7—Tina and Tim (ages 11 and 6) live with their divorced mother and only rarely see their father [in Tina into Two Won't Go. ]. Both children have been badly hurt by the divorce, but while Tim openly shows his hostility toward his father, Karl, Tina hides her feelings in order not to hurt either parent. So it is not surprising that when Karl asks both children to spend Christmas with him, only Tina agrees, feeling sorry for him. However, their Christmas "trip" to Tenerife turns out to be a kidnapping, and Tina is torn between a longing to go home to her mother and a desire not to hurt Karl. The writing is choppy; moreover, the plot drags rather than sustains any feeling of suspense, and much of the narrative sounds wooden. This is surprising in light of Donnelly's two earlier acclaimed books, So Long, Grandpa (Crown, 1981) and Offbeat Friends (Crown, 1982). A nice touch is the telling of the story from three different points of view (Tina's, Karl's and the mother's) but on the whole, this is disappointing.
Growing Point (review date January 1984)
SOURCE: Review of Tina into Two Won't Go, by Elfie Donnelly. Growing Point 22, no. 5 (January 1984): 4188.
In Tina into Two Won't Go, a novel from West Germany, a consciously jerky narrative plan develops the story in short, candid and often bitterly comic sections, each focussing on one of the four central characters. Tina at eleven is old enough to be upset and intrigued by the quarrels of her librarian mother and her father and to worry about the effect of their disagreement on her younger brother Tim. When her father snatches her off to Tenerife, she is at first inclined to enjoy the unexpected change and then begins to fear for the future: a brief acquaintance with a liberated girl, baby on hip, helps her to realise her father's immaturity, as it helps him to take more sensible account of his responsibilities. Like many European books for the 'teens, this one is more relaxed, more unorthodox and more open about adult behaviour than many British counterparts; brief as it is, it makes important points about the emotional capacities of the young without softening the issues.
Geoff Fox (review date 30 November 1984)
SOURCE: Fox, Geoff. Review of Tina into Two Won't Go, by Elfie Donnelly. Times Educational Supplement, no. 3570 (30 November 1984): 28.
If Nicky, the heroine of The Line of Dunes, had read the other three novels under review, she might not have been so upset about being an orphan. Given a straight choice between membership of any of the families in the other books and life at the orphanage, she might well have settled for the latter as the saner bet.
Hitting out at everything and everybody, Nicky goes off to a caravan-park holiday in Wales with a mini-busful from the orphanage. She breaks the rules, makes friends with a girl from a gypsy camp, helps the gypsies to avoid eviction and helps the police to nab some crooks. Inevitably, Nicky is recommended for the Police Award and so joins the rest of the human race, accepted by everyone including herself. This is really a very old-fashioned book. True to convention, it has a foolish and blustering teacher, a foolish and well-meaning teacher, a slow-moving police sergeant and a baddie who, when cornered, rasps "I'll get you for this, McKenzie". The book has a brisk story and impeccable moral attitudes: gypsies, orphans, teachers and policemen are all good, ordinary people who win out in the end; which is fair enough and many an upper junior will find this a pleasurable read.
There is nothing ordinary about the Harris family, whose family life is chronicled in The Granny Project. One's reviewing heart sank on the first page: "The beautiful Natasha Dolgorova spoke from where she leaned, distant and contemptuous, against the airing cupboard door." (Eh? Really ?) The Harrises are, to say the least, a verbal bunch: Mother Natasha occasionally lapses darkly into her native Russian, her husband teaches languages and her four children are the kind who would, in due course, all be offered Oxbridge places on two E's (they'd interview sensationally), though they'd probably turn the offer down in favour of Coketown Poly. Then there's Granny, flickering between fantasy and reality and driving Mother and Father so spare that they decide to put her into a home. This provokes the fury of the children, who plot to bring all kinds of pressure to work on their parents. Thus confronted, Natasha and Henry say, in effect, "OK, you want her, you get on with it, we're going out dancing". Anne Fine is well able to sustain the frenetic pace to keep this precarious plot credible. The basic idea (extremely unfunny in essence) is treated with verve—the dialogue zips about like literary bees. The forebodings of the first page are unfounded—some authors manage to share an enjoyment of their own characters and a kind of tongue-in-cheek amusement which are infectious. Able readers with a taste for the zany might well find the book unusual and thoroughly enjoyable.
The May Spoon needed a strong editor to help its author lose at least fifty pages. The form is that of a diary (though 1,500 words on some days make for entries much longer than, say, the ruminations of A Mole). The "writer" is growing up in Vancouver, with a super-bright older sister, moody and super-bright academic father and crazy mother (still setting plates and food each meal for son, killed fighting on the wrong side in Vietnam). The father, in fact, is the most intriguing element of the book—from the narrator's perspective, he is at once loving and careless, concerned for his children one moment and bored by them the next. The book is an account of how the writer sorts a few things out, but the story is as loosely woven and unpatterned as life itself and the accusation made by other characters that the writer over-dramatises ordinary events seems just. While it is true that this is a common enough adolescent trait, there did not seem to be sufficient substance of plot or personality for the reader to care enough for the narrator's well-being, and certainly not throughout more than 200 pages.
Tina into Two Won't Go is another Unhappy Families story. It is translated from the German, and if it has lost anything in the process, it may be its sense of humour, for there seemed to be the remains of some laboured attempts to raise a smile. Otherwise, the book broods in somewhat teutonic fashion. Tina is in the crossfire of a divorce and the narrative keeps switching from the first person when the focus is on Tina to the third person when on Karl and Angelica, her parents. Both of the adults may seem to young readers to be not merely sad, but also tediously gloomy. Karl steals Tina away and flees to the Canary Islands for Christmas. There is no solution to be found there and father and daughter return. The parents are not glibly reconciled, but they do find a less fraught way of living. Not much has happened, and the book may please those readers whose interest lies in the workings of relationships rather than the attractions of a story line. The Afterword asks "What will happen next?" and concludes, without much conviction, "Things can always change".
A PACKAGE FOR MISS MARSHWATER
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review
date March 1988)
SOURCE: Review of A Package for Miss Marshwater, by Elfie Donnelly, illustrated by Ute Krause. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 41, no. 7 (March 1988): 134.
Gr. 2-4—Miss Marshwater is stereotypically ladylike [in A Package for Miss Marshwater ] until she unwraps two duck-billed platypuses in a package sent her from Australia. A and Bea, as they're called, transform her into a relaxed and happy woman simply by echoing everything she says and providing the company for which she has been so lonely. Although there's some redeeming humor, the creatures seem a bit cutesy and the story contrived: A and Bea have babies (Cee and Dee), who echo Miss Marshwater's words in babytalk. "And," as the ending abruptly has it, "that's the story." Easy to read, with funny illustrations, this may serve as practice for transition readers, who will get a kick out of names like the landlady's (Mrs. Wolfbottom).
Jeanne Marie Clancy (review date May 1988)
SOURCE: Clancy, Jeanne Marie. Review of A Package for Miss Marshwater, by Elfie Donnelly, illustrated by Ute Krause. School Library Journal 35, no. 8 (May 1988): 82.
Gr. 2-4—Donnelly's rollicking tale [A Package for Miss Marshwater ] is sure to capture the hearts of young readers, who are all too familiar with having to behave according to the expectations of their elders. Emmie was a wild little girl, but, after many reprimands from her mother, she's grown up to be Miss Marshwater—a true lady. She plays the harpsichord, and she never slurps her tea. Then she receives a large and mysterious package from Cousin Everett in Australia. The contents of the package are both amazing and terrifying—a pair of duck-billed platypuses, A and Bea. The platypuses cook, clean, and repeat everything that Miss M. says. Needless to say, it doesn't take long for A and Bea to find the many chinks in Miss Marshwater's ladylike armor and a way into her heart. Suddenly, Emmie Marsh-water rediscovers the joy of comfortable shoes, un-combed hair, rolling on the floor, and just being Emmie. A and Bea are a winning and whimsical pair who provide a delightful vehicle for Emmie's fall from ladyhood. A skillful translation retains the humor of the tale, while providing an easy-to-read text that is ideally suited to those readers making their first foray into longer books with fewer illustrations. Krause's black-and-white cartoons visually chronicle the disintegration of Miss Marshwater's facade with subtle humor; A and Bea are as appealing as their inane, echoic dialogue. Let's hope that the fortuitous arrival of Cee and Dee signals the possibility of a sequel.
Booklist (review date 1 June 1988)
SOURCE: Review of A Package for Miss Marshwater, by Elfie Donnelly, illustrated by Ute Krause. Booklist 84, no. 19 (1 June 1988): 1673.
Gr. 2-5—Spoof and romp with a bit of philosophy adroitly tucked in are words that deftly characterize Donnelly's tale of the pristine ever-so-ladylike Miss Marshwater [A Package for Miss Marshwater ]. Her dignified routine is shattered by the arrival of an enormous, unwieldily birthday package from Cousin Everett in Australia. Inside are the strangest animals—gray, with wide bills like ducks and flat, brown, beaverlike tails. He writes that the two platypuses, "A" and "Bea," are easy to take care of and "will repeat anything you say." When her "merciful God in heaven" is echoed, there is no doubt. In a daze, then feeling woozy, Miss Marshwater gets the giggles and kicks off her pointy high-heel shoes. Playing her harpsichord and buying kiwis by the dozen, with duck-billed friends who need her care, Emmie Marshwater feels like she belongs. Krause's winsome drawings of the personality-plus platypuses add gentle delight.
Review of A Package for Miss Marshwater, by Elfie Donnelly, illustrated by Ute Krause. New York Times Book Review (13 March 1988): 35.
Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of A Package for Miss Marshwater.
Review of Offbeat Friends, by Elfie Donnelly. Reading Teacher 36, no. 3 (December 1982): 338.
Offers a positive assessment of Offbeat Friends.
Roback, Diane. Review of A Package for Miss Marshwater, by Elfie Donnelly, illustrated by Ute Krause. Publishers Weekly 232, no. 26 (25 December 1987): 75.
Describes A Package for Miss Marshwater as an "affectionate tale of transformation" and compliments the story's "humor and good will."