This first book in the Austin series (soon to be rereleased as "The Austin Family Chronicles") is a sweet, episodic account of life in rural new England in the 1950s. Told from the point of view of twelve-year-old Vicki, the oldest girl in a family of four children, it relates her thoughts and feelings during a time of great change. A dear friend of the family has died in a plane crash and, as a result, 10-year-old Maggie comes to live with them.
Vicki knows she should feel sorry for Maggie, since she is an orphan and has nowhere else to go, but it's hard. Maggie is abrasive and spoiled, has no respect for anyone's feelings or property, and seems to feel entitled to whatever she wants, whenever she wants it. But, as Vicki's father points out, if the Austin family is so fragile it can't handle taking care of one little girl without falling to pieces, then something is seriously wrong. Vicki feels galvanized by the thought, but the path to peace and acceptance is still a bumpy one.
I love Madeleine L'Engle's books, both for children and adults, and the ones featuring Vicky have always been my favorites. The Austin family is by no means perfect, but their love for each other, as well as their willingness to ask and discuss difficult questions - things I was pondering at Vicki's age (and still am today, actually), bring the characters to life and never fail to draw me into their story.
I read this one aloud to my 7- and 9-year-old daughters, and while it took a few chapters for them to truly become involved, they ended up enjoying it and have been clamoring for more Austin stories. The beginning of the book was a bit difficult for them, I think, because it dealt with the night Vicki and her family hear about the death of their friend, and it made them live through a little bit of what it feels like to get that horrible news. But reading the rest of the book and watching Vicki and her family deal with it was clearly gripping to them, as was the story of Maggie coming to live with the Austins, and how that affected their lives. I think my girls also enjoyed the feeling of the book being set in the not-too-distant past, when things like phonographs were in regular use (and it was fun explaining about those things to them, although it made me feel a bit old!).
While this is not my favorite Vicki Austin book, it is a great introduction to her life and her family, and it is fun to watch her change and grow through the course of the series. My personal favorite is A Ring of Endless Light, but it will be a few years before my girls will be ready for that one. In the meantime, I will have to introduce them to some other favorite books by Madeleine L'Engle.
The Austin Family Chronicles:
1. Meet the Austins
2. The Moon by Night
3. The Young Unicorns
4. A Ring of Endless Light
5. Troubling a Star
Meet the Austins (#1 in the Austin Family Chronicles) by Madeleine L'Engle (Laurel Leaf, 1960)
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Books Your Kids Should Read