A Piece of Salted Caramel: A Review of The Mitchells

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I was in the middle of reading Swallowdale (the sequel to Swallows and Amazons, written by Arthur Ransome) when we left for Croatia. My mother most (un)graciously told me that no, I couldn’t bring Swallowdale along because I would finish it in one night, so I picked The Mitchells off the shelf and stuffed it in a bag.

The Mitchells, by Hilda Van Stockum, is a story about five children, Joan, Patsy, Peter, Angela, and Timmy, who live during WWII. When their father goes to go fight in the navy, they create the “Five for Victory Club” that is supposed to help people who are in the midst of fighting. Then someone moves in next door, along with a mysterious refugee girl. The Mitchells become great friends with the refugee, a girl named Una. But can they help her find her parents?

The Mitchells was a funny book with one especially naughty (and amusing) character: four-year-old Angela. In the book, Angela said many funny and exasperating things. For example:

“‘I’m hungry,’ she said loudly to whom it might concern. ‘I’d like some.’

‘Oh, Angela,’ cried Joan, blushing with shame. ‘You just had a big breakfast.’

‘I only had peas,’ announced Angela in an injured voice.

‘Peas?’ Una laid down her spoon and smiled.

‘Oh, Angela,’ scolded Joan, embarrassed. ‘You didn’t have peas.’

‘I did too,’ Angela maintained firmly.

‘You did not. We don’t have peas for breakfast,’ protested Peter. ‘Only for lunch and supper.’

‘We have too,’ said Angela. ‘Kris Peas.'”

Do you get what I mean?

The result of having episodes like this was that the book had a jubilant, merry feel to it that elated my spirits.

This book had a small mystery in it: the mystery of Una. Una had a very hazy past that she didn’t talk about. No one knew who she was or where she came from. This exposed the reality of how bad WWII was. There were thousands of refugees like Una who were forever lost in the world, knocked about from one house to the other. This added a touch of sadness to the book, like a sprinkle of salt on a piece of caramel. But like salt and caramel go together nicely, this sad fact made the book a little more exciting and realistic. Good job, Hilda Van Stockum!

In all, this was a sweet, funny little book that was indeed very pleasant. It is the first of three books, and even an eight-year-old could read it without much difficulty. And yes, I have made up my mind now: The Mitchells is a piece of yummy salted caramel.

You can buy the book here.

Ages: 8+

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