The last time I read a children’s book was circa January 2008, my freshman year of college. Over that bitter winter break, I read (and fell in love with) Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. After that, I was up to my ears in Modernist literature and 19th century Russian philosophy, with nary a moment to spare for anything unrelated.
As I was about to graduate, I discovered that a professor in my favorite department – Slavic Studies – was about to release a children’s book of her own in January 2012. Intriguing! How would this professor, with myriad scholarly articles to her name, transition to children’s literature? Naturally, I had to find out for myself.
The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet
Anne Nesbet does not disappoint. Her debut novel, The Cabinet of Earths, is a breath of fresh air for this persnickety reader. The book follows Maya, a young California girl transplanted into Paris, as she uncovers magical secrets about her family, strange scientific societies, salamanders, and a Parisian underworld.
With confidence and charm, Cabinet of Earths delivers robust themes that resonate with older readers: courage in the face danger, acceptance of illness and mortality, the transition from childhood to adolescence, and the appreciation of friends and family–and especially of little brothers.
The story is inventive and rich, encouraging imaginative playfulness as it unfolds.
Nesbet’s book stumbles a bit with diction. Many of her sentences are short and, consequently, feel too abrupt. While being a very appropriate style for her target audience of younger readers, it did become tiring for this feathery reader.
Overall, The Cabinet of Earths is a wholly enjoyable read, and I look forward to Nesbet’s forthcoming 2013 sequel, A Box of Gargoyles.