Friday, April 27, 2012

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

Details... Details... (Sigh...) I am so good at missing the details.

Detective Nate the Great is better with details than me. I'm more like the characters in Julius Lester's book, Sam and the Tigers.  And not Sam. I'm more like tigers that ran in a circle around Sam until they turned into butter. Or the Cat in the Hat who destroyed the house playing with the two kids. For instance, I cooked stir-fry the other night and splashed it on the ceiling and dribbled pineapple juice on the floor unbeknownst to me. My husband's shoes sounded like suction cups on the floor as he went to do the dishes. Once in a while I moan about this defect, "It would be so nice to not miss the details, but even when I slow down, I still miss them... so why bother?" I just continue to streak along like Joey Pigsa, a locomotive out-of-control.

So you shouldn't be surprised that I missed the details on this book cover that say, A BOOK INSPIRED BY THE SECRET GARDEN. I'm tooling through the pages indignantly thinking, "This book's plot is just like The Secret Garden's!" Duh. That was the author's intent. If you have read The Secret Garden four times like I have then the comparisons between characters and plot are quite striking, and yet, Ellen Potter makes this story her own with a unique beauty. I fell in love with it by the end.

Roo is a tough cookie. She has to be. Her father and stepmom were drug dealers that died in a deal gone bad. Roo is in her secret hidey-hole under the trailer-home listening to a police officer who has come to collect her, talk to a neighbor. She discovers that she has a rich uncle and is going to live with him on an island. Roo is snotty like Mary in The Secret Garden, but whereas Mary is spoiled, rich, and neglected, Roo is poor and  neglected. Both girls are unwanted by their parents except Roo had a relationship with her father and grieves his death. She talks about the stories he'd tell and missing his hugs. The mom is out of the picture and there doesn't seem to be a connection with the stepmom. Roo is a loner and survivor and it is no surprise that when she gets to the island that she is befriended by only one person, the maidservant Violet. Again, this story-line is just like Mary in The Secret Garden who becomes friends with the maidservant, Martha. Both girls are local and have a mother who is wise about children. Some of the best lines come from her. Violet, doesn't have an accent like the Yorkshire girl, Martha, so she is easy to understand. I think the strength of this book is that it is easier to read for students in grades 3-5 versus Burnett's young adult version.

The boy, Phillip, is very similar to Colin in The Secret Garden. He's sickly, has dark circles under his eyes, and is prone to temper tantrums. Roo reacts to him with anger which is like Burnett's story. There is a twist with skeletons that is interesting and true to the classic's themes of death and grief. Also, the plot lines of how the mother died are different yet similar. I love the image of the mom being like a cormorant and a wildness to her, as well as, the garden representing her culture. Potter captures the Romantic Era's focus on nature and character's reacting strongly to it such as when Roo and Phillip can "hear" the humming of the earth. She doesn't go to an extreme like in Burnett's novel where Colin recites the Doxology but you get the idea that nature elicits strong feelings in characters.

Jack is like Dickon in The Secret Garden in that animals like him but he's different in that he's considered a fairie. Potter sprinkles magic and legends through her story that adds tension and mystery. Jack is a part of a local legend about Faigne (fairie), water creatures that control the weather, who came from Guernsey an island in the British Channel. There is a shadow in the garden that they think is the dead mother, a flower that suddenly blooms at Phillip's feet, and a humming sound that comes from the earth and sounds like the song Phillip's mother used to sing to him. Jack doesn't really have a family and he lives on the river. He represents nature even more than Dickon.

Roo changes internally as she becomes friends with Jack and Phillip. She begins to bloom like a flower with joy and happiness. Potter does a nice job showing this change in a novel much shorter than the classic. I will recommend this novel to my students before the classic. It captures the magic of the original and is easier to read. I guarantee you'll walk away humming.

Reading Level 4.5

4 out of 5 Smileys

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