• Birthday greetings to First Lady Michelle Obama and heavy-weight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.
  • It’s the birth date of John Bellairs (1938–1991), The House With a Clock in Its Walls, Robert Cormier (1925–2000) The Chocolate War, A.B. Frost (1851–1928) Stuff and Nonsense.
  • Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) and Al Capone (1899¬1947) were both born on this day. Read Ben and Me by Robert Lawson, and Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko.
  • It’s Hunt for Happiness Week (Jan 17–23 this year) created by the Secret Society of Happy People. Read The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt.

January has been designated Book Blitz Month, a great time  to indulge in the books of your favorite author. For me the perfect author to pick up in January during the long, cold New England nights, would be Eva Ibbotson. She wrote so many different kinds of books—all of them combining literary excellence with child appeal.

The Star of Kazan, ideal for fourth to seventh graders, has been set in Vienna, Austria, in the early 1900s. A love of all things Viennese—from the beauty and richness of the city to its exquisite pastries—permeates the narrative. As the story opens a foundling left in a church is discovered by two tourists named Ellie and Sigrid. Although they try to drop the baby off at a convent, a typhus outbreak causes them to bring the girl to live with them in a house where they provide cleaning and cooking services for three professors. There Annika grows up, a delightful child who loves cooking and learns to be useful in service. On her birthday the professors take Annika to special places; at one point she gets to see a performance of the royal Lipizzaner horses. When neighbors take in an impoverished great aunt, Annika cares for the old woman, spending time with her and learning her story. When the woman dies, she leaves all her possessions to Annika, stored in an old chest that Annika believes to be filled with costume jewelry.

But the chest contains a great deal more than mere paste diamonds. Suddenly Annika’s “long lost mother” shows up and takes her to a run-down and decrepit ancestral home. The family is only one step ahead of the bill collectors and do not have enough money to eat well, but they have a plan—one that involves Annika and her trunk! As in all the Ibbotson books, readers need not worry about the final outcome; Ibbotson always admitted to being a “happy ending freak.” But The Star of Kazan—with orphans, jewels, scheming aristocrats, and a gypsy boy with a talent for training horses—keeps readers happily engaged for over 400 pages. If Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone had been written for children, it might read a great deal like The Star of Kazan.

Happy Book Blitz Month. I hope that you are able to pick up titles as fabulous as The Star of Kazan.

Here’s a passage from The Star of Kazan:

At first Annika did not like the sound they made; it was so different from the lilting Viennese waltzes she was used to. This music attacked you; it was fierce and angry…at least it was at first. She listened to it with clenched hands. Then suddenly one of the fiddlers stepped forward and played a melody that soared and wreathed and fastened itself round the heart – a sad tune that sounded as if it was gathering up all the unhappiness in the world – and then the other musicians joined in again, and it was as though the sadness had been set free. The music was no long about life being sad and lonely. It was about life being difficult, but also exciting and surprising and sublime.

Originally posted January 17, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Geography
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Star of Kazan
Be Sociable, Share!


  1. Jen says:

    I haven’t read any books by Ibbotson! Now I am so curious about her books. When the new year starts it does seem like someone shouts, “Go!” when it comes to reading…and other resolutions, too! We celebrated John Green week as we anticipated the release of his book, The Fault In Our Stars. It’s fun to read widely within one author. It’s interesting to see how the connections we make differ when we do so. Happy reading in 2012, Ms. Anita!

  2. Viv says:

    This sounds like a book my 11 year old son would love. Thanks for bringing to our attention!

  3. Darsa says:

    Oh, I love this book! Eva Ibbotson is one of my very favorite authors. (I shelve her books with Elizabeth Enright’s which are just one shelf down from Maud Hart Lovelace’s.)

    When I was reading THE STAR OF KAZAN to my oldest son (he was in third grade at the time), about half way in, he took the book from my hands after finishing that night’s chapter and said he wanted to keep reading it himself. That was truly the night he became a “reader”.

    Recently my middle son finished THE OGRE OF OGLEFORT; we all love Ibbotson at our house!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I adore Ibbotson’s humor and inventive plots! Thanks for highlighting her work here.

  5. Mary Losure says:

    ISLAND OF THE AUNTIES is another great one.

  6. Mr. Schu says:

    Thank you for the lovely shout-out. I have not read The Star of Kazan. I’ll add it to my to-read list.

    -Happy Reading!

  7. Beverly says:

    “The Secret of Platform 13” is sitting in my pile of books to read. Now I definitely want to read it. Ibbotson sounds like my kind of author.

  8. Anita says:

    Yes, I recommend The Secret of Platform 13, a big hit with young readers, and Island of the Aunties as well. We’ll look at The Journey to the River Sea next month.

  9. Love that you are highlighting Eva and her books. She had a brilliant mind, was (as you say) incredibly versatile, and had a beautifully edgy wit.

  10. Jenny says:

    I adore Eva Ibbotson! I have read “The Secret of Platform 13” aloud to my classes over the years, and every year it’s an unbelievable success. Even students who say they hate read alouds end up begging me to continue, even through recess sometimes! I would be hard-pressed to choose a favourite book, but that might be my favourite of her fantasy/magic category. “The Dragonfly Pool” and “Journey to the River Sea” are my favourite of the realistic and historical fiction group.

    Happy reading to everyone who hasn’t yet experienced these wonderful stories!

  11. Sue porter says:

    Oh how happy I am that you selected this book. I had the good fortune years ago to illustrate several of Eva’s books, including “The Secret of Platform 13”. How uncannilly like this very original story “Harry Potter” turned out to be . . . Hmm. Eva’s writing was beautiful.

  12. Diane says:

    Thanks for a wonderful post! I have enjoyed so many of Eva Ibbotson’s books and this one is a personal favorite. I recently finished “The Abominables” by Eva Ibbotson published after her death. It is a delightful story of girl who discovers a family of Yetis and a brother and sister who try to save them from poachers.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.