Crown Publishing Group: American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

The Secret of Nightingale Wood

When 12-year-old Henrietta Abbott (who has "always been Henry") and her family move to a large old home in the English countryside called Hope House, it's supposed to be a fresh start. But Mama is still "confused and upset" by the tragic death of Henry's older brother, Robert, and Father escapes by taking a job abroad. Henry and her baby sister (affectionately called Piglet) are looked after by Nanny Jane, while Mama is cared for by Doctor Hardy, who keeps her sedated with increasing doses of his "special medicine." Asserting that Mama is too ill to see her remaining children, the doctor chases Henry away.

Henry explores nearby Nightingale Wood, and stumbles upon a fragile woman living in a caravan whom she comes to know as Moth. Even though Moth has her own sadness, she understands that to "lighten the darkness," Mama "needs stories, music, sunshine, birdsong, the smell of a rose, the smile of her daughter." Even with the growing certainty that Mama will be committed to Helldon, "a ghastly gray tomb of a building," Moth helps Henry believe "there will be a way to help."

Literature and fairy tales allow Henry to make sense of her world. Moth is like "a forgotten, fairy-tale princess," while Doctor Hardy "fill[s] the doorway like an ogre." Mama, trapped in her room, is Rapunzel, and numerous literary nightingales allude to freedom. In her debut novel, Strange tells a lovely, extraordinarily enchanting coming-of-age tale. Henry is determined to put things right, even while Dr. Hardy and the other adults begin to question her own sanity. As the cook's husband puts it, "we've all been tossed by the waves... the [t]rick is not to sink." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI