Do you have comfort reads? Books that make you feel warm and cozy when you go back and reread them? Some people find comfort in their favorite picture books, while others look to poetry. For me, it seems to be books I first read when I was eight or nine and treasured my copies until they fell to pieces. Beyond the Pawpaw Trees: The Story of Anna Lavinia, by Palmer Brown, is one of those books.
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Anna Lavinia was trying to thread a needle when she looked out her window and noticed that it was a lavender blue day. Interesting things always happened on a lavender blue day–it was a lavender blue day when her father disappeared, chasing a double rainbow. So Anna Lavinia didn’t wait for her mother to tap on the ceiling to call her to breakfast. Instead, she slipped out of the house to look around. Her first thought was that this lavender blue day might be the day that her father returned. He had been gone a very long time, and she missed him.
But instead, it turned out to be the day that Anna Lavinia was sent to visit her father’s sister, Aunt Sophia Maria. Anna Lavinia had never left her house, behind the tall walls, hidden by pawpaw trees, perfect for making paw paw jelly. But on this lavender blue day, her mother tells her to get ready for her journey. Anna Lavinia gathered her cat Strawberry, a blue carpetbag full of useful things (including the mysterious silver key left to her by her father) and after adding a few jars of pawpaw jelly from her mother, Anna Lavinia sets out on the train to visit Aunt Sophia Maria, who lives…somewhere beyond the train stop.
The things in Anna Lavinia’s carpetbag prove to be helpful in the strange and delightful adventures that she finds beyond the paw paw trees, after the end of the train tracks, and down past the floating oasis. She certainly didn’t expect the curious events that faced her as she set off on that beautiful lavender blue day. As she journeys down floating cliffs and across great deserts, is presented with thobby awards and musical fountains, Anna Lavinia finds that the best surprise of all is waiting at the end of her journey.
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This is such a wonderfully strange little book. Is it a fairy tale? A fantasy? A fantastical adventure? Is Anna Lavinia kindred spirits with Alice and Dorothy? The answer to all these questions is probably “yes”.
Anna Lavinia is an intrepid, plucky young heroine. Whatever the problem, she finds some creative way to deal with it. She may have a strange background (her father is off chasing rainbows, while her mother doesn’t believe in school–Anna Lavinia has taught herself reading and writing and her mother has helped with arithmetic by counting jars of paw paw jelly and doing the shopping lists) but her heart is in the right place and she’s quite resourceful!
First published in 1954, Beyond the Pawpaw Trees has been out of print for several years, and was just brought back this fall by New York Review Books. (I love this publisher…their goal seems to be to bring back beloved books that are mysteriously out of print.) There is one sequel to Anna Lavinia’s first adventure: The Silver Nutmeg. It’s difficult to find, and my hope is that that title will also be brought back eventually.
Beyond the Pawpaw Trees is a slim book, but there’s quite a bit of action packed into it! If you have fans of Oz or Wonderland, they’ll probably also enjoy this book. It’s best for third through fifth grades, but could be read aloud to younger listeners. Try it as a read-aloud! Fans of My Father’s Dragon would probably love this book as well, since it has a very similar feel.
Try this book with your own plucky readers, and see what they think of life beyond the pawpaw trees. (And bonus points if you know what a pawpaw is!)