When a big storm threatens an island orphanage, animals come to the aid of people in trouble in this debut short story for middle-grade readers.
Somewhere in the Northeast United States, there’s a place that locals call the Isle of Hope. It’s home to an orphanage and school, owned by Dr. John Smyth, a clinical psychiatrist who inherited a fortune that’s rumored to have originated in Smyths’ earlier smuggling and piracy. The young orphans warn newcomer Charles Parker to stay in bed at night to avoid encountering pirate ghosts. Despite such teasing, Charles feels right at home—partly because he was allowed to bring his pet cat, Boots. The boy makes friends with Hayden, the Smyths’ friendly son, who immediately nicknames him “Chuck.” As they explore the island, Hayden points out a seabird whom he calls “Hannah Claire,” saying he can talk to her and other animals. Other birds, meanwhile, warn Hannah not to communicate with Hayden; they advise her to settle down and raise chicks, but she prizes her freedom. When a big storm threatens the island, the orphanage’s residents evacuate. A whaling captain picks up stragglers, including Hayden, his father, and Charles; however, Hannah Claire perches on the ship’s rail, as if trying to warn them of danger. The ship does encounter difficulties, but a surprising occurrence prevents the vessel from running aground, which later causes the captain to change his ways. Directly afterward, Hannah is blown away by the wind. Ten years later, Hayden and Charles are attending the National Maritime Academy and, while taking a walk, they recognize a bird’s distinctive, single black feather. Later, an old Smyth family member returns to the island and is greeted by a familiar animal.
There’s an old-storybook quality to this tale, with its adventures, hints of piracy, and communication with animals. It also takes place in an unspecified year, sometime before whale-hunting was outlawed, and this vagueness lends the proceedings a once-upon-a-time feeling, as does the animal-helper motif, common in fairy tales. An appreciation for animals runs throughout the book; for example, the adults never seriously consider banning Boots, even after he steals fish right off the dinner table, “his tail pointed straight up, acting like a rudder to guide him.” (However, readers never learn exactly what kind of seabird Hannah is.) The foreshadowed adventures in the book’s title, however, never actually materialize. It is said that long ago, Dr. Smyth saved a girl named Hannah Claire from falling off a cliff; he later speculates that Hayden heard his parents talk about her, and then named the bird after her because both of them are travelers. That may be, but the traveling adventures of Hannah Claire—bird or girl—are all offstage, and the book seems to hint at a significance for the double-naming that it never really explores. It also drops the intriguing question of how Hayden is able to talk with birds and otters.
A sometimes-evocative story of surviving danger with others’ help, despite some missed opportunities.