It may be a relatively low text book but this junior fiction title by June Crebbin ticked all the boxes for me. Sophisticated writing that is totally appropriate for the book’s 7- to 12-year-old target market, this is a fabulous read, least of all for its balanced, beautifully-written and edited prose, but especially for its rollicking storyline.
Crebbin has a real knack for creating luscious imagery with her words – and yes, children also deserve such clever writing – a clarity and sophistication that is normally reserved for adults. I love how she doesn’t talk down to her readers, but uses full, glorious wording and dialogue perfectly suited to the times – that of Queen Elizabeth I and the young Will Shakespeare.
Lady Jane Hargrave is thrilled to bits when none other than Elizabeth I pays visit to their family home in Dorsetshire, England. Astride her steed, Delphine, she waits at the top of the hill for the royal procession, which descends too quickly upon the house. Panicked, Jane flees back to the courtyard where she arrives just in time to greet the Queen.
Elizabeth I takes immediately to young Jane – and wants to learn more about her languages and horse riding and interests. Jane obliges in her candidly youthful way. Little does she know her candour is something the Queen covets and – much to her horror, at the end of her visit, Elizabeth asks Jane to become her sixth maid of honour. Of course, being so young, Jane is not ready to leave her mother, but her mother gently insists, for this is not an honour anyone could turn down.
Life at court is very different for young Jane, but she soon settles in and begins many a fascinating adventure. She even befriends a young stable lad who introduces her to William Shakespeare! Jane is fascinated with theatre life and manages to accidentally take part in a play at the Globe Theatre, much to her delight.
On her way back to court from visiting her ailing mother, Jane also finds herself aboard a ship in the midst of the approach of the Spanish Armada. So much excitement for such a young lass, and such a joy to be part of her adventures – and to feel first-hand the hot breath of history through Crebbin’s work.
Warm, clever, approachable and packed with superb line drawings that will keep more reluctant readers engaged, this is one of my favourite rapid reads this year.
The Queen’s Maid is published by Walker Books and is part of their Racing Reads series.