Aided by her two corgis, the headmistress of the Great Rapscott School for Girls of Busy Parents teaches her 8-year-old charges—Beatrice, Mildred, Fay and Annabelle, children whose parents don’t have time for them—how to take care of themselves.
Primavera’s stylish story, while not laugh-out-loud funny, is undeniably humorous in tone, though paradoxically the situation is so poignant that it also has an underlying air of melancholy. The curriculum at Ms. Rapscott’s school is “How to Find Your Way,” and the students, who are brightly outlined but not given much internal shading, are graded on “pluck, enthusiasm, spirit of adventure, brilliance, and self-reliance.” Ms. Rapscott, an indefatigable, charismatic leader who immediately sees the best in her initially unappealing charges, is full of inspirational remarks, urging her students to “be like a good pair of boots: sturdy, durable, and waterproof.” The author’s darkly whimsical black-and-white drawings supply atmosphere and also tell parts of the story. Although the tone is absurd and fantastical rather than representative and realistic, the girls, who are taught etiquette and survival basics such as how to write a thank-you note and “cross the street without getting squashed,” grow and change in believable ways.
This is not an emotionally involving tale but one that’s quirky and imaginative, aimed at middle-graders who like their fiction with a twist. (Fiction. 8-12)