Anyone But Ivy Pocket by the mysteriously named Caleb Krisp is absolutely charming. The first book in an illustrated four-book series this series is perfect for readers of A Series of Unfortunate Events and Withering By Sea. The bookclub members reported that it had been quite popular in their schools already. Interestingly, Ivy is an unreliable narrator, a device that is not used very often in children’s books. It is fascinating to observe as children read this text their realisation that Ivy is not exactly to be trusted. Ivy upsets people at every turn but she does not see herself that way at all, instead picturing herself as being talented and charming. Ivy has grand delusions of her own importance, is frequently very rude and has absolutely no intuition whatsoever. However she is very independent, not afraid to stand up for herself, is very funny and has a lot of spunk: the reader will cringe in one paragraph and cheer her on in the next.
As in many children’s novels set in the past, social class pays a large part. Ivy is a poor and ill-educated maid and Matilda and her relatives treat Ivy with disdain, ‘She is a maid and maids do not sleep in guest bedrooms.’ (p 98). Again, this social prejudice is one of the obstacles that Ivy must overcome. On her deathbed in Paris the Duchess entrusts Ivy to deliver a very large diamond (with mystical powers) to Matilda Butterfield, the granddaughter of an old friend, at Matilda’s 12th birthday party at the family’s stately home in England. There is a cast of strange, mostly unlikable, untrustworthy characters (including some dwarf monks called “Locks”) as one would expect when there is a very valuable diamond at stake.
We discussed the narrative device of using an orphan’s point of view, which was particularly used in some classic children’s novels. We mentioned novels such as Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, Harry Potter, Heidi and The Witch of Blackbird Pond that were similar. That sense of the orphan’s aloneness and isolation and rising above terrible beginnings has been a narrative device that draws our attention and sympathy as readers. As a plot device a lack of pesky parents interfering in their lives gives orphans a chance to go out into the world and make their own way and have adventures. Ivy is very conscious of her orphan status. The quote, It’s no wonder you’re an orphan. Your parents probably died of shame. (p 266), unfortunately reminded us of a comment made a few years ago by a radio announcer toward our then Prime Minister, and it is just as uncomfortable reading the sentiment in a children’s novel.
Being orphaned is at the heart of Ivy’s story and she covers her loss with false bravado and humour,
While people loved me as a general rule, I haven’t much experience of them worrying about me. That’s the sort of thing a parent might do. Or so I am told.
In some ways, the tone of the novel also reminded us of The Truth About Verity Sparks. Themes such as grief and loss, friendship and revenge are all explored in this delightful story. We are really looking forward to book 2.