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SEVEN FOR A SECRET by Laurence Anholt


by Laurence Anholt & illustrated by Jim Coplestone

Age Range: 5 - 8

Pub Date: May 1st, 2006
ISBN: 1-84507-300-2
Publisher: Frances Lincoln

What begins as a pleasant exchange of letters between young Ruby, who lives in the city, and her grandfather, who lives in the country, quickly becomes a maudlin tale overshadowed by social ills. The plot hinges on “The Magpie Song,” that Grampa sang to her dad: “1 for Sorrow, 2 for Joy . . . 7 for a Secret never to be told.” With Ruby’s mom pregnant, her dad frets about family expenses and Ruby worries they will all have to live under the railway bridge. As Grampa’s health declines, the symbolism for each magpie number is connected to events (“4 for a boy” when Ruby’s brother is born). When Ruby doesn’t get a letter from Grampa, and a magpie appears on her balcony, she knows that “1 for sorrow” means Grampa has died. Adults will foresee the outcome: Ruby’s family moves into his forest house and she finds the “secret” number seven in the magpie tree—a box of gold coins. The magpie device strains the story, the sequencing wobbles and the story framework falters. Attractive illustrations and the secret may appeal to kids, but not enough to overcome the contrivances. (Picture book. 5-8)