The word spelled a-u-g-u-s-t has at least two meanings. The most obvious is the month we are currently in, the eighth month of the year. August. But “august” can also mean something particularly noteworthy, something esteemed.
In music, an augmented fifth is a type of chord that uses a note slightly higher than a normal fifth chord for the top note. It adds some extra excitement to the music, a sense that the music is going somewhere. An augmented fifth is not the sort of chord that one uses to finish a song, it’s a chord that leads to something else. It builds the listener’s anticipation.
For the five Fridays of this month of August, I’m going to introduce you to some middle grade novels that to me are particularly noteworthy, that have augmented my life and led me to growth and discovery. I hope they will, among other things, lead you to the library where the anticipation of these “august augmented fifths” can find resolution as you read the book for yourself.
So, let’s take a look at the first of five — 1/5 of the augmented fifths of the month:
Twelve-year-old Elizabeth does NOT want to be where life has placed her. If life had consulted her, she still would be living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Her mother would still be alive. She’d be in a familiar school. She’d be with her friends. She wouldn’t be living with Aunt Julia in chilly, damp London, England; her widowed father wouldn’t be at a university two hours away; she wouldn’t be attending a school where she very much feels like an outsider; and strange things wouldn’t be happening.
For strange things do happen as Elizabeth learns to accept life in London with Aunt Julia. A homeless woman in the park, who is always quoting poetry for some reason that Elizabeth cannot fathom, asks her if she is a Listener. She hears odd sounds under the ground, that she isn’t quite sure really are coming from the underground trains as her aunt says. A man seems to be following her, and there is something very odd about him, something that makes shivers run up her spine. And one day, Elizabeth sees a tiny horse galloping across the park and disappearing … into the ground. She knows, deep within herself, that somehow all these strange and disparate elements are connected. Deeply connected.
Beverley Brenna has woven an intricate modern fantasy in The Keeper of the Trees, melding reality and other-reality in a totally believable fashion. Themes of nature and of care for the environment thread through this book as they do through most of her writing. Her love of literature is evident in her skilful weaving of snippets of poetry into the text so that each quotation advances the story in some way. And through it all, we get a finely drawn picture of life in London as experienced by a twelve-year-old who finds it so different from home.
Every time I read this book — I am re-reading it now — I get something new out of it. This time, I’m finding myself more aware of Bev’s use of unique similes and metaphors as descriptors, more aware of her evocative language.
The book was written in 1999, and is not always easy to find, but I believe it’s worth looking for. This book is a Keeper.
Title: The Keeper of the Trees
Author: Beverley Brenna
Publisher: Vancouver, B.C.: Ronsdale Press, 1999
Genre: Middle grade fantasy
Audience Age: 9 to 12 years