October 7, 2011

Baby Island

I love Carol Ryrie Brink. Not only did she write the award-winning Caddie Woodlawn, but she also wrote Baby Island, one my favorite books as a kid.

The book opens with a shipwreck. 12 year old Mary Wallace and her 10 year old sister Jean are traveling to Australia to meet their father, whom they haven't seen for 2 years. Jean and Mary have spent the voyage so far "borrowing" the babies on the ship. So it seems perfectly natural that the parents will hand their babies to Mary and Jean in their lifeboat as they run back to fetch just a few more things...

But then the lifeboat is cast off, and Mary Jean soon find themselves adrift with Elisha and Elijah, aged 20 months, Ann Elizabeth, aged 1 year, and Jonah, aged 4 months. Luckily after only a day or two of floating they land upon a deserted island, where they resourcefully set to work finding fresh water, building a teepee, and learning to feed the babies coconut milk. Mary also insists that they keep a calendar, and say Psalm 23 every Sunday, so that they won't forget the days or their manners.

A few weeks later, however, they discover that they are not alone on their island. Is their neighbor a pirate? Or a savage? To their relief it turns out that he is a former sailor who moved to the island to escape "young-uns". Mr. Peterkin may be gruff, but he has a small herd of goats, which makes milk production for the babies much easier. For the next several months Mary, Jean, and the babies work on getting Mr. Peterkin to warm up to them -- all the while hoping that someday they will be rescued.

I first read this book at age 6 or so, and so the inherent impossibility of such a scenario didn't occur to me. After all I was already pretty experienced in helping with my younger siblings, and it seemed perfectly rational that a 10 and 12 year old could take care of four babies. I loved this book -- the descriptions of how Mary and Jean design their house and care for the babies and figure out how to live on an island with very few resources. Mary and Jean are intrepid little girls, and Brink's writing is a delight, with funny nuances that I didn't catch as a kid but appreciated this time around.

The age recommendation on the back of the book says 8-12, but I think it would be a fun choice to read aloud to kids even younger than that, because it has plenty of adventure to keep them interested. And, it's a perfect read for any kid who loves babies but isn't quite old enough to babysit yet!

Rating: 4.8 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Yes, have her read it to your kids!

Are you a Carol Ryrie Brink fan? Did you love babies when you were a kid?

The cover image and title of the book are Amazon affiliate links. If you use the link to buy the book I will earn a small referral fee.