Author: Kate Seredy
Major Themes: Czechoslovakia
Synopsis: When Philomena finds herself alone in the world, she must try to find work and her aunt in the big city of Prague.
We really loved this story—all except one facet of it. The story is very sweet, and the pictures are wonderful. Philomena is sort of a combination of chapter book and picture book; there are lovely black-and-white drawings every two or three pages. The setting is unusual, too: pre-World War I Czechoslovakia. I love the pictures showing the people in their traditional dress.
Philomena lives with her grandmother, Babushka, in the village, because her parents are dead. Now Babushka is dying, and with her last strength she tells Philomena, who will now be alone in the world, to go to the big city of Prague and find her aunt, who has been missing for many years. Philomena should do her four years of service with her aunt, and then return to the village to marry.
Philomena dutifully sets off for the city and searches for her unknown aunt, but cannot find her. No one seems to have heard of the great beauty named Liska. At the end of her resources, Philomena goes to a park, where she sits down and begins asking Babushka for help. A man tosses a newspaper down beside her—and Philomena sees an ad for someone like her. Babushka has answered fast! Philomena works at the house as long as she can—and leaves with a canary bird. Once again, she must ask Babushka for help, and once again Babushka answers. However, Philomena soon decides that Babushka is playing tricks. She keeps following her guidance, but will she ever find her Aunt Liska? Or even just a nice home to work and live in?
As I said, we loved the story. It is delightful, and so funny, as Philomena keeps finding herself with more pets to care for. However, we were not comfortable with the way she kept asking her dead grandmother for advice and believed she received help from her. That part of the book did not seem right. Other than that, though, it was a wonderful story of a girl doing her duty and eventually being rewarded for her diligence and kindness.
WARNING: See the last paragraph of the review.
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12