Winter Cottage by Carol Ryrie Brink / illustrations by Fermin Rocker
From the inside flap:
It is the fall of 1930, the beginning of the Great Depression. Thirteen-year-old Minty Sparkes is already aware that she has a large responsibility for her family’s well-being, for although she loves her poetry-quoting father, both he and she realize that his verses and charm will not feed or house them and Eggs, Minty’s younger sister.
How the Sparkes family manage during this penniless winter – and the unusual experiences they have – make a story that young girls will read with understanding, sympathy, and delight. A double-surprise ending adds to the reader’s pleasure, and the handsome drawings by Fermin Rocker capture the feeling of the characters and the locale.
This is the sort of book that I want to hug when I’ve finished it. Though written for middle-grade children, Winter Cottage holds a story so lovely and timeless and sweetly simple that it is appropriate for all ages. Indeed, though it will enrich a child’s imagination and mind and heart, this book may become even more dear to older readers than to younger.
I first read this book just last week. Though I loved Carol Ryrie Brink’s Caddie Woodlawn as a child, I didn’t know Winter Cottage existed until I stumbled across it on a below-eye-level shelf in my tiny local library. The sturdy hardcover has obviously seen a good deal of joyful wear-and-tear over the years, and on the pocket inside (the one that holds the “date due” card), someone has noted in red pen, “Shelve with Wisconsin books.” I really enjoy reading good children’s books (As C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.” 🙂 ), and so I didn’t hesitate to add this one to my TBR stack.
One night after supper, I peeked inside – started reading the first chapter – and couldn’t stop! Winter Cottage enchanted me. Minty Sparkes (who was named Araminta after her great-aunt, in the vain hope that this would secure a share of that aunt’s inheritance) and her sister “Eggs” (named by her sentimental and poetry-quoting father “Eglantine,” a “name worthy of the poets”) began by securing my concern for them when – stranded in the northern Wisconsin wilderness with their father, their rickety car breaks down. What will they do? Where will they go?
Then they come upon a “summer cottage” – abandoned by its rich owners until the next summer season, nearly 9 months away. Surely, no one will mind if the Sparkes live there and take care of it? Surely, they can earn the rent to pay for their stay – even though they have no permission to stay at all? Eggs and Pop optimistically believe this; practical-minded Minty isn’t so sure…
But there’s nowhere else to go, and so an adventure ensues – one that hums with the molasses-sweetness of childhood, that makes your mouth water for one of Pop’s secret pancakes (after all, as he says, pancakes are the only thing he’s ever been successful at!), that inspires you to try a shadow play for yourself one of these snowed-in winter days.
And the ending! Though everything wraps up well, you will long for a sequel (there isn’t any 🙁 ) — which I take as the sign of a very good book, indeed. 🙂
If you’ve enjoyed Anne of Green Gables, Caddie Woodlawn, or All-of-a-Kind Family, you will love Winter Cottage! Unfortunately, it is out-of-print, but many libraries still carry an old copy – as was my happy discovery. 🙂 (Amazon has some old copies for sale, but they are expensive, so I’m not even going add a link to them.) This is also a great, great book to read aloud to the entire family.
Happy reading, friends!
Grace and peace,