cover image The Lost Flower Children

The Lost Flower Children

Janet Taylor Lisle. Philomel Books, $16.99 (122pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23393-7

Lisle's (Afternoon of the Elves) blend of gentle fantasy and tough reality features two motherless children spending the summer with their dithering but well-meaning great-aunt. Nine-year-old Olivia and her five-year-old sister, Nellie, have just lost their mother. Their father, a traveling salesman, cannot cope with single parenthood, especially with Nellie's bizarre behavior (she insists on walking upstairs backward and is completely dependent on Olivia). At first, living with Aunt Minty provides little comfort for the girls, who refuse to make friends with the neighborhood children. Then Olivia finds an old book written by the previous owner of Aunt Minty's house with a story set in a horseshoe-shaped garden identical to Aunt Minty's. The tale describes a group of fairies who invade a tea party of children and transform them into flowers. It's up to the sisters to perform the counter-charm: they must recover and re-assemble the tea set, which is scattered and buried in the garden. Nellie's determination to break the spell gives her a sense of independence and frees Olivia to make new friends. Although Lisle's third-person account straddles perspectives (mostly offering an on-target kid's-eye account of feeling alone and overburdened but occasionally adopting an adult tone), she compellingly demonstrates the transforming power of love and responsibility. Olivia, Nellie and Aunt Minty all blossom in the midst of the overrun garden; once released, they are like the flower children--freed from a long sleep and their isolation. Ages 8-11. (May)