The Dragonfly Pool, by Eva Ibbotson; Dutton
Children’s Books: New York, 2008; $17.99
I’m not a big fan of fantasy books. So when I flipped through The Dragonfly Pool and found mentions of dukes, kings, and princes I groaned, thinking this book would be about royalty, kingdoms, and other things irrelevant to my life.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Dragonfly Pool is about real-life situations and feelings.
Tally is a girl living in London as World War II is approaching. Her father, believing she won’t be safe in London when the war comes, reluctantly sends her away to a boarding school called Delderton. Tally doesn’t want to go, worrying that it’ll be like her cousins’ strict boarding school. But when she arrives at Delderton, she is instantly comfortable and makes friends with a girl whose mother is a movie star, a boy who tries to flush his tie down the toilet, a girl who lisps and is allergic to many things, and other eccentric characters. Classes range from drama, where children “give birth” to themselves and act like forks, to biology, which starts at four am.
The school is invited to perform at a folk-dancing festival in a country called Bergania. There they meet Karil, the crown prince of Bergania, who wants more than anything to be an “ordinary” kid. After his father’s assassination Karil is in danger, so the students go to great lengths to rescue him and bring him to Delderton.
There were many themes in this book, such as friendship, trust, and reaching out to children from all over the world, but the most intriguing to me was the one Karil thinks about: the definition of ordinary. I have also wondered about this because sometimes I feel that I don’t have an ordinary family and I’m not an ordinary kid. I’m homeschooled; I can’t tolerate certain foods a lot of kids enjoy, like chocolate and ice cream; I have some challenges; and I’ve always felt kind of different, with the things that interest me, from other kids. So I could relate to Karil, who longs to be an ordinary person and join the Delderton kids at their school. The ironic element is that, compared to most other schools, Delderton is not ordinary.
I liked the school with its quirks and would probably enjoy the classes. Another thing I liked was that the kids really learned stuff at Delderton, even though some of the classes might have seemed silly. Sometimes I worry that people might think I’m not getting a proper education because I don’t go to school, but I believe kids learn in places that work for them. Also, the descriptions were vivid and I felt like I was there. So reading about the school was fun.
Some elements of the book were overplayed. Even though it was necessary to the plot, the scenes where the kids had to escape from Nazis became a little rote. Also, the “relatives pushing a kid to be something he doesn’t want to be” seemed kind of cliche. These scenes were boring because I felt I’d read them all somewhere else.
Overall, however, I liked The Dragonfly Pool. The plot was intriguing, the themes were interesting and inspiring, and the location was fun. While reading it, I almost forgot about what was going on around me!