Tally, 11, is happy living with her widowed doctor father and devoted aunts. But it is 1939, and London--with war on the horizon--is not a safe place to be, so Tally's father decides to send his daughter to a boarding school in the Devon countryside. Reluctantly, for she has heard horror stories of stuffy institutions with snobbish classmates and ruthless teachers, Tally resigns herself to the inevitable. However, once aboard the train, she begins to realize that Delderton is a very different type of school: the students are encouraged to learn in the ways that suit them best, and every faculty member sincerely cares for each child.
Tally's kind nature draws her to befriend classmates with their own difficulties, among them Kit, who longs to attend a "normal" boarding school, and Julia, a sad girl with a secret. It is on an outing with Julia that Tally learns of a small country called Bergania through a newsreel, and she is mesmerized by the nation, its king, and crown prince, Karil. When she discovers that the kingdom is hosting an international folk dance festival, Tally forms a dance troop so that Delderton can be represented. When the Deldertonians arrive in Bergania, the country and people prove to be everything Tally has imagined them to be. But the delightful atmosphere is suddenly shattered by a tragedy. The horrible event compels all the children attending the festival to unite to save the day, and save it they do. The different levels of the story come together seamlessly under the expert pen of Eva Ibbotson. The author handles each aspect with sensitivity, humor, and warmth. This is a novel not to be missed. It is ideal for book clubs, class discussion of the book's themes, and for a rollicking
good read that will keep the pages turning right up to the satisfying conclusion. 416 pages. Ages 11-14
Recommended by Basya Karp, Librarian.