THE STAR OF KAZAN by Eva Ibbotson

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While on holiday in the Austrian mountains, Ellie and Sigrid find baby Annika abandoned in a church and bring her back to Vienna.  The three Professors for whom Ellie and Sigrid work as a cook and housekeeper are upset at first by the introduction of a noisy, messy baby to their home.  But within a few weeks, Annika becomes a beloved part of the household.  Although she works hard around the house helping Ellie and Sigrid, Annika loves her life in Vienna.  She loves the Emperor Franz Josef and his dancing Lipizzano horses.  She loves her friends Pauline and Stefan and the games of make-believe they play in the abandoned garden.  In fact, the only thing about life in Vienna that Annika does not love is Loremarie Egghart, the snobby, rich girl who lives across the street and who turns her nose up at Annika, the “kitchen girl.”  But when Loremarie hires Annika to read books to the bed-ridden great-aunt whom none of the Eggharts can stand, Annika finds a new friend, a friend with exciting and exotic stories of a glamorous past life, stories that will live with Annika long after the old lady herself passes on.

Everything in Annika’s world changes, however, when her real mother arrives in Vienna. Annika had always dreamed hopefully of a day when her mother would arrive to claim her long-lost daughter.  What Annika never expected was that her mother would be a “von”–a German noblewoman–Frau Edeltraut von Tannenberg.  She also never dreamed of what would come after her mother’s arrival–the part where she would take her away from Vienna and everyone she knows.  Annika’s new life in Germany is wonderful in some ways.  For one thing, there is Zed the stable boy, with whom Annika immediately forms a strong friendship.  And of course she is with her mother!  But Annika quickly learns that there are secrets in her noble family, and not all of them are good.

This novel is simply superb historical fiction–one of my favorite children’s books.  I highly recommend it to middle grade readers, and any adults who enjoy children’s fiction.  It has an engaging plot, wonderfully drawn characters, and clean, evocative writing.

The audiobook (narrated by Patricia Connolly) is also excellent!

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