Reviews for West of the Moon


Booklist Reviews 2014 February #2
*Starred Review* In the Scandinavian fairy tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," a young girl is taken from her home to a magnificent castle by a great bear, whom she discovers is really a prince. Young Astri is not so lucky--when she is taken away from her aunt's home, it's by a hunchbacked goat herder, and she doesn't sleep in a magnificent castle, but in a cold, filthy cottage in the mountains. Still, she can't forget the stories and fairy tales that her mother told her before she died--­stories that inform how she understands her plight. Perhaps the goat herder is a prince in disguise, and maybe he is hiding troll treasure. Clever, deeply feeling Astri knows what's real and what's not, but those stories have power, and they buoy her to do whatever it takes to escape the cruel goat herder; reunite with her sister, Greta; and depart for America, where they will finally be with their father again. Like dun silk shot through with gold, Preus (Heart of a Samurai, 2010) interweaves the mesmerizing tale of Astri's treacherous and harrowing mid-nineteenth-century immigration to America with bewitching tales of magic. A fascinating author's note only adds to the wonder. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2014 April
Those plucky Norwegian girls

Before she became a Newbery Honor-winning author, Margi Preus spent 25 years as the artistic director of Duluth’s Colder by the Lake Comedy Theatre, where she wrote, produced and directed sketches, operas, plays and adaptations. So why the switch to children’s books? “I had kids!” she says with a laugh.

“Something really happened to me when my older son [now 26] discovered the magic of books at age 2 or 3. He wanted me to read him book after book, and he’d watch my lips and . . . eyes, look at the page, then back up at my face and mouth. I could see he was putting it all together, that those little squiggles on that page are making her say words that have meaning to me. This magical thing is happening to me, and a story is happening somehow. That was a big part of my inspiration, of wanting to try [writing books].”

And so she did, first with three picture books, and then historical fiction for middle grade readers: the 2011 Newbery Honor book Heart of a Samurai and 2012’s Shadow on the Mountain.

Her new book, West of the Moon, was another new writerly adventure for Preus: It’s inspired by the writings and art of her real great-great-grandmother, Linka, who came with her husband to America from Norway in 1851, but the story and its characters are not as tied to history as in her previous works. Preus spun a mere few lines of text from Linka’s diary into a magical mix of folklore, myth and adventure set in the sometimes beautiful, sometimes forbidding mid-19th-century Norwegian mountainside.

The heroine in West of the Moon is not unusual for Scandinavian folktales. "Girls can be very strong; even if a boy comes to rescue them, they tell them what to do.”

It’s the story of 13-year-old Astri, who (in today’s parlance) kicks some serious butt. She’s smart and savvy, and ably navigates strange, stressful situations even if she’s sad or scared—which is fairly often, considering her mother’s dead, her father is somewhere in America, and her aunt has just sold her to a filthy, mean goat-herder, thus separating her from her younger sister Greta.

Astri strives to maintain her safety and dignity, recalling favorite folktales and memories when she needs a mental lift, and using all her guts and wits on a daring escape-and-rescue mission that’s often as funny as it is suspenseful. And the mission continues on—ill-intentioned pursuers and bridge-trolls be damned—because Astri decides it’s time to go to America.

While many details of her ancestors’ own immigration experience informed West of the Moon, Preus says her great-great-grandmother’s brief mention of a girl she met on the ship to America revved up her imagination.

“As I read over [those lines in the diary],” she says, “I wondered . . . what kind of girl would get on a boat alone and go to America, not knowing anyone? I thought I’d see if I could figure out a story for her.”

But, she adds, this “was a bit scary for me. . . . I had so many ideas, and it was hard to settle on what should happen next. [When] writing the two earlier books based on real people . . . I couldn’t go off in a direction too far afield from what actually happened. With Astri, I just had to decide or feel how I wanted it to be.”

One important decision: Preus infused Astri with the strength and smarts typically found in Scandinavian folklore, as well as in the pages of her great-great-grandmother’s diary.

In Astri’s favorite folktale, “the girl goes three days past the end of the world to rescue a guy,” Preus explains. “That’s not an unusual heroine in Scandinavian folktales and fairy tales. Girls can be very strong; even if a boy comes to rescue them, they tell them what to do.”

She adds, “I was thinking about that, looking through the diary again. The night before [Linka] got married, she wrote . . . ‘A human being is a free and independent creature and I would recommend every woman consider it, and I insist that every maiden owes it to herself to do so.’ That is a fairy-tale heroine. . . . She kind of got in trouble as a pastor’s wife, because they were supposed to be submissive.” (At the book’s end, readers may peruse Linka’s actual drawings and a handwritten excerpt from her diary.)

Lucky for readers, Preus’ great-great-grandmother didn’t stop writing and drawing in her diary because others disapproved, and Astri wasn’t meek because dastardly people wanted her to be. That drive for independence, the belief that something better lies ahead, is an inspiration for readers of any age—and, perhaps, an impetus to read Scandinavian folktales.

For now, though, Preus has put folktales aside to work on her next book, a companion to Heart of a Samurai. “It picks up where that book left off, historically.” She’s working on it in her backyard writing house, built for her in 2009 by her younger son (artist and furniture designer Misha Kahn) and her husband, a designer and contractor.

Margi Preus' writing house

Preus' backyard writing house, where she crafts her stories and wears fingerless gloves as needed.


“It’s a wonderful place. I love it!” she says. “It’s got a real wood stove, great big picture windows looking out over a frozen creek, all birch inside. . . . I’m sure if I looked hard I could see a deer in the woods behind it.” The little wooden house has become vital to Preus’ writing process, now that she’s left the comedy theater (and teaching, which she also did in previous decades) and has been transitioning to writing full-time.

But her years spent focusing on laughter have served her well, as evide[Wed Sep 3 00:57:46 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. nced by the bouts of humor that buoy West of the Moon and in the way she approaches her stories.

“[At the comedy theater], I didn’t write the funny stuff. I just took all these ideas everybody had, all these little scripts and pieces and improv bits, and made them into a show. I feel like writing a novel is a lot like that, with all the different themes that have to come together to make a whole story.”

While she does miss collaborating on comedy productions, “I don’t miss the ego things, which are rampant when doing theater. . . . I have very little patience for that now.” It works out nicely, then, that the woodpeckers and chickadees—and the occasional black bear—in her yard aren’t likely to bicker over personal issues. They’ll do their outdoor things; Preus will write indoors; and Astri will journey on.

 

Writing house photo courtesy of Preus.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2014 Fall
Preus takes readers to mid-nineteenth-century Norway in a tale strongly infused with myth. Fourteen-year-old Astri is determined to go to America. First she must escape the brutish goat herder to whom her greedy aunt and uncle have sold her. Norwegian folktales are seamlessly integrated into the lyrically narrated story, which features a protagonist as fearless as any fairy-tale hero.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2014 #3
Preus, whose Shadow on the Mountain (rev. 11/12) was set in Nazi-occupied Norway, here takes readers to mid-nineteenth-century Norway in a tale strongly infused with myth. Fourteen-year-old Astri is determined to go to America to find her widowed father. But first she must escape the brutish goat herder to whom her greedy aunt and uncle have sold her, free the other young captive he's been hiding, and rescue her little sister Greta from their aunt and uncle. Astri tells her story in three parts: her time slaving away for smelly Svaalberd the goatman, her discovery of the mysterious girl hidden in the storehouse, and her daring retrieval of Greta; the girls' frantic flight through the countryside; and, finally, the ocean voyage to America, which ends on a heartbreaking yet hopeful note. Several Norwegian folktales are seamlessly integrated into the fast-paced, lyrically narrated story, which features a protagonist as stalwart and fearless as any fairy-tale hero. A glossary and select bibliography are appended along with an author's note listing the folktales referenced and quoting the 1851 diary entry (by Preus's great-great-grandmother) that inspired the novel. jennifer m. brabande Copyright 2014 Horn Book Magazine.

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Kirkus Reviews 2014 February #2
Thirteen-year-old Astri is a goat girl, but she's no Heidi; she's a sharp, stone-hard girl who hasn't yet found the goodness inside herself. In fact, her life is as wretched as the darkest Norwegian fairy tale. Instead of being taken by White Bear King Valemon to his castle, Astri has been sold by her own aunt and uncle for "two silver coins and a haunch of goat" to a nasty old hunchbacked goatman named Svaalberd who lives in squalor. Folk tales from "The Twelve Wild Ducks" to "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" weave through Astri's often dryly humorous, suspenseful first-person account until one feels like the other…including her riotous escape from the violent man-troll and the rescue of her beloved little sister. The girls' odyssey over hill and dale, aided by a kind milkmaid and lonely widow, takes them all the way to an America-bound ship—the Columbus. Whether or not their father is still alive in America, the country beckons like the castle in the bear story that "lies east of the sun and west of the moon." Preus, who won a Newbery Honor for Heart of a Samurai (2010), was inspired by her Norwegian great-great-grandmother, who immigrated to America in 1851, as she explains in an author's note, even providing reproductions of some of her great-great-grandmother's papers. Norwegian history, fiction and folklore intertwine seamlessly in this lively, fantastical adventure and moving coming-of-age story. (glossary, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 11-14) Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2014 March #4

Inspired by a few lines from her immigrant great-great grandmother's diary, Newbery Honor author Preus (Heart of a Samurai) spins the sometimes harrowing tale of Astri, a 13-year-old Norwegian girl sold into hard labor by her greedy aunt. With a dead mother, a father in America, an imperiled younger sister, and the foreboding goat-keeper who has bought her, Astri is like a girl out of a fairy tale, and the native folktales that Preus weaves through the narrative serve as guides, lessons, and inspiration for her. Determined to escape her cruel master, rescue her sister, and join her father in America, she learns firsthand the sacrifices--financial, physical, and emotional--that immigrants face. Astri is fierce and brave enough to bargain with Death, and not always innocent; likewise, the villain is also an agent of salvation. In the reality these folktales frame, there are no easy or absolute categories. A threat of sexual violence and a grisly death might be hard on sensitive readers, but this immigrant's tale would ring false without them. Ages 10-14. Agent: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Agency. (Apr.)

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Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

Inspired by a few lines from her immigrant great-great grandmother's diary, Newbery Honor author Preus (Heart of a Samurai) spins the sometimes harrowing tale of Astri, a 13-year-old Norwegian girl sold into hard labor by her greedy aunt. With a dead mother, a father in America, an imperiled younger sister, and the foreboding goat-keeper who has bought her, Astri is like a girl out of a fairy tale, and the native folktales that Preus weaves through the narrative serve as guides, lessons, and inspiration for her. Determined to escape her cruel master, rescue her sister, and join her father in America, she learns firsthand the sacrifices--financial, physical, and emotional--that immigrants face. Astri is fierce and brave enough to bargain with Death, and not always innocent; likewise, the villain is also an agent of salvation. In the reality these folktales frame, there are no easy or absolute categories. A threat of sexual violence and a grisly death might be hard on sensitive readers, but this immigrant's tale would ring false without them. Ages 10-14. Agent: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Agency. (Apr.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

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School Library Journal Reviews 2014 April

Gr 5-8--Astri is 13 when she is sold by her aunt and uncle to a goat farmer named Svaalberd to serve as an unpaid laborer. Defiant but practical, she spends months with the brutal and superstitious Svaalberd, cooking, cleaning, and caring for the goats, before she escapes the farm with her fellow captive, the mysterious Spinning Girl. Astri fetches her younger sister, Greta, from her aunt and uncle's house, and hightails it with Svaalberd's "treasure" to the coast in order to sail to America. At its most basic, this is a tale about a girl escaping a poverty-stricken life in mid-19th century Norway. But from the beginning, the mystical and wondrous elements of Norwegian folktales are woven into the narrative, lending a timeless quality to a story inspired by the author's family history. The harsh realities of that time period, from rickets to tetanus, take on a strange, magical, and often terrifying aspect, as seen through Astri's naive eyes. She compares her servitude to Svaalberd with the story of White Bear King Valemon, who steals a young girl away, but really, Svaalberd is more like a troll to Astri. Folktales inspire the protagonist and allow her to imagine her own situation as a sort of legend--but in real life, actions have consequences. The decisions Astri makes to survive come to haunt her, and with her regret comes a new maturity, strength, and an ability to face her future in America. Enthralling and unflinching, this historical tale resonates with mythical undertones that will linger with readers after the final page is turned.--Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library

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VOYA Reviews 2014 April
Astri's life changes when her aunt sells her to a goat farmer. With him, life is not pleasant. Constant chores fill her days, but more importantly, she misses her sister, Greta. After a night during which her safety is threatened, Astri finally escapes. She does not want her sister to suffer a similar fate, so she returns to her aunt's house to rescue her. After their reunion, the girls look for a way to escape their lives and go to America Astri wants a normal life and dares to take fate into her own hands. Astri is a strong female character willing to risk everything to make her and her sister's lives better. The book takes places in Norway and does a marvelous job of showcasing the countryside. An author's note explains that this book was inspired by great-great-grandmother's diary. The story of Astri is fictional but based on fact, with pictures from the diary and explanation of terminology. With a lyrical tone, Preus weaves folktales into the story. This novel is a quick read full of dangers and the darkness of fairy tales.--Jennifer Rummel. 4Q 3P M J Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.

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