I had read Carol Ryrie Brink’s Newbery winning book, Caddie Woodlawn and liked it. The only reason I picked up Baby Island was because I recognized the author.
The S.S. Orminta is sinking! Startled into consciousness, Mary and Jean Wallace’s first thought is to help Mrs. Snodgrass prepare her three babies for the lifeboats. But when they get to the Snodgrass’s cabin, the parents are gone – and the babies have been left! Mary and Jean snatch them up and board a life boat waiting only for the call to cast off. While they wait, Mr. Arlington asks them to take charge of Ann Elizabeth, the darlingest baby on ship. Before he or any of the parents return, however, the life boat is set afloat with Mary, Jean, Jonah, Ann Elizabeth, Elijah, and Elisha on board.
After floating aimlessly for several days, the children finally come across an island, which Mary and Jean dub ‘Baby Island’ in honor of their cargo. But will Mary, Jean, and the four babies survive on Baby Island? And will they ever be rescued by their family?
Obviously the premise of the story – six children being shipwrecked on an island and *SPOILER* all managing to survive with barely a mishap – is fanciful. Other than that, there were no incidents in the story that made it truly unwholesome.
Mary and Jean are both responsible, industrious little women. They are also thoughtful and determined. When they receive news that the ship is sinking, their first response is to help their friends take care of the babies. Once they are embarked in the lifeboat with the babies, the accept the responsibilities and are extremely attentive towards them. I found it interesting that the entire story of Baby Island is a theme typically eschewed by children’s stories – that of enjoying time spent with younger children. I just loved the part when
Jean stuck her fingers in the crack of the paneling and struggled manfully. “I see I’ll have to be the father of this family,” she said. [pg. 14]
Cute, or what?
While on Baby Island, Mary and Jean meet Harvey Peterkin. Mr. Peterkin is a man who, after witnessing his brothers’ unfortunate marriage to a nagging woman and their subsequent mischievous children, abandoned his fiancé and sought to start life away from the harassments of family life. He treats the children very gruffly at first, telling them to leave him alone and stop bothering him, but over time he becomes fond of them and takes care of them. During his interim of gruffness, Mary and Jean decide to try to change his perspective. So, they invite him over for Sunday dinner, and Mary preaches an instructive sermon! Unfortunately, he falls asleep in the midst of it, so it does not have the desired effect.
Every time Mary and Jean begin to lose courage they sing ‘Scots Wha Hae’ to themselves. I found this both humorous and sad. Humorous because it’s just a cute mental picture – two little girls bracing themselves and belting out the song of their homeland. Sad because they have no better source of consolation.
Mary and Jean both make a comments about mermaids. It is not clear whether they believe they are real or if they’re just using them to express a point.
Ms. Brink states that Mary and Jean are ‘very independent and self-reliant little girls’, meaning that they are capable of taking care of themselves. This theme was not developed in the story, so I thought it was okay.
Jean and Mary briefly discuss the ‘awful thing’ that happened to Bluebeard’s wife.
“Yes, Bluebeard had definitely had definitely told her not to look, and she went and did. It served her right to find all those ladies hanging by their hair.”
“It certainly did!” agreed Jean heartily. [pg. 93]
Jean has a tendency to be a bit impish responding saucily to some of Mary’s imperious commands.
‘Darn’ and ‘shucks’ are each used once.
Conclusion. All-in-all a cute story about brave, responsible young girls.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret