I’m starting to reconsider reading jacket copy or blurbs—though Eoin Colfer is right: I do love Miranda. And I’m going to have to find more of Siobhán Parkinson’s work.
Cover illustration by Karen Radford
Hodder Children’s Books (UK), 2016
Hachette, 2018. Hardcover, 160 pages
Juvenile Fiction. Ages 9-12.
Let’s skip the jacket copy a moment which is [a bit] deceiving and open the book to the first paragraph—which is just as appealing.
“All right, then, I am not going to begin with a whole lot of boring explanations about who I am and what age I am and what my family is like and all that stuff, because I happen to think you can work it out for yourself, as a matter of fact, and if you couldn’t be bothered, well then, that’s your own business and maybe you would be happier reading a different book.”
I immediately knew I would like Miranda.
Miranda as narrator is a nonstop talker. The reader/listener will be taken by the front of the shirt and pulled in by sheer personality. Miranda is energy, imagination, insightful, passionate, and humorous. Her turns of phrase, and the things she has to say about her Gran. The bear she interacts with named Lucy Fur…
We don’t know Miranda’s age, but I was thinking she’s at least past age 8 because of the Tooth Fairy conversation. The marvelous thing about not knowing Miranda’s age is that it was hard to nail down an expectation for her behavior. Were her actions, thought processes, emotions, due to age; average, developmental delays or advancements? Miranda isn’t her age or appearance; she is more than those things. Neither is COR limited to girly-girl activity. And why can’t boys (ala Darren Hoey) be nice to girls? Siobhán Parkinson works to address the way we set up expectations in a number of ways her young audience can relate to, engaging with ideas of perspective, perception. Expectations are a result of our imagination (or are lack thereof). Is Miranda having this fit or acting this way because why wouldn’t she? I mean, it is true that there is a lot going on, however indirectly stated at times.
We do know that Miranda’s only sibling is 16. Gemma has some serious health issues and is sent to the hospital, taking Miranda’s parents with her and leaving Miranda in the care of her aging, cigarette smoking Gran. “I get landed with Gran. Don’t get me wrong, I love Gran, but she is like orange squash. You need to take her in small doses and dilute her.” Lest we wonder how serious Gemma’s situation is and hoard all our compassion for Miranda, Parkinson offers some sobering turns. Life is complicated and not all together fair. That is why we need Word of the Day and Miranda’s Big Imagination.
“Her name is Miss Lucey, our teacher. That is not her first name. we do not call teachers by their first name in our school, it’s not that kind of school. I know there are schools like that because I have a cousin in Dublin that goes to a school where the teachers have first names. My gran said, “Get away out of that,” when I told her. That means she doesn’t believe you.”
Miss Lucey choose the Word of the Day from student submissions; the author chooses them from her character’s experiences. Similarly, Miranda will share writing assignments and while she will use her imagination to construct them, the fantastical elements don’t arrive there from nowhere.
“The people there [Magnanimous] speak different kinds of Music. Different kinds of people speak different kinds of Music, like the granddads speak Adagio and the toddlers speak Allegretto and the dogs speak Pianissimo, which is a very good language for dogs, because it means extremely quietly and dogs do mostly need to pipe down, right?”
“You mean, those Italian words they write on music to tell you how to play it?” [COR] said. (She learns piano. As well as playing football [soccer]. She is very busy. I don’t seem to have time for things like that.) “Those are the languages that people speak in this mad place of yours with the glass hospital?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Why?” she said.
“No why,” I said. “Just because.”
My dad taught me those words…
This book is Miranda through and through—and she may or may not be reliable as narrator. While Miranda often translates her Gran (and others) for us, who will translate Miranda?
Her best friend COR (aka Caroline O’Rourke) doesn’t know how to read her. She does know that something is off with Miranda, but she comes to believe something is wrong with Gran. Miranda’s essay on lung cancer and the application of “succumb” doesn’t help. The problem is that Miranda is discouraged from talking about the problems in their family. But a generous act on COR and Darren Hoey’s part will force the issue…an unexpected consequence of Miranda’s Imagination and Vocabulary.
That’s the thing about imaginations, words, and miracles: it’s hard to always anticipate their consequences. And it’s hard to know if their intended consequence will work: like whether the story of Magnanimous will result in a miracle for Gemma. “Can Miranda write a miracle for her sister?”–jacket copy.
Miranda has a Big Imagination, and always wins Word of the Day at school. When her sister Gemma is taken into hospital, Miranda escapes into her own fantasy land, Magnanimous. With giraffe police, ham sandwich trees and a Crystal-Clear Glass Hospital for Getting-Better Children, Magnanimous grows and grows. As her sister gets worse, things Miranda writes seem to trigger small miracles she has been asking for: her gran stops smoking, horrible Darren Hoey is nice to her … Can Miranda write a miracle for her sister? –jacket copy
So where does the magical land of Magnanimous (as promised by the jacket copy) enter in? Magnanimous does appear after “when her sister Gemma is taken into hospital,” but so does the entirety of the novel. We learn that Magnanimous is a place Miranda has be constructing using “fantasy geography,” filling COR in on it between schooldays and evenings with Gran and telephoned and text-messaged updates on Gemma’s condition.
When I read the book description, I was immediately drawn to this fantasy land. I love whimsical things. And I love the meld of magic and the real. I wondered if it would share similarities with Iain Lawrence’s The Giant Slayer, where a gifted storyteller is able to transform reality through the fantasy they’ve constructed. Siobhán Parkinson does this…and she doesn’t. The reader will find themselves in/on Magnanimous eventually, but it’s the journey up to that point that creates its meaningfulness. It seems Parkinson isn’t just into whimsy for the sake of charming her reader, it isn’t a special flavoring, it’s kind of the point.
We often talk about fantasies as places to escape, rarely do we view them as extensions of ourselves. That imaginations are a place where our experiences are re/visited; an expression as a mechanism for coping with what is all too real. It fills in blanks. It projects our needs and desires. It’s another part of the world and body we live in.
Miranda’s experiences will influence her imagination in Miraculous Miranda. And her imagination will influence her reality as well; primarily, as a result of her writing.
When her teacher instructs the class to write about their pets, Miranda points out that she doesn’t have a pet. Miss Lucey then reminds her of her Big Imagination and invites her to write as if she has a pet. Miranda chooses chickens, and guess what happens: 3 chicks show up on the doorstep. Inspired by her gran’s phrasing, she names them Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And this isn’t even the first small miracle she witnesses (and will later track in a chart and share with the reader). Miranda begins to wonder, and so will the reader.
It’s rumored that imaginations can be powerful things. I’ve heard it is, I’ve probably told others. If an imagination is big enough, could it result in something (or someone) miraculous?
Miranda has a Big Imagination, her teacher Miss Lucey has told her so. Miss Lucey also told her that miracles aren’t only defined by Bible stories. Here’s the conversation as related to a class reading of a portion of “The Jumblies” by Edward Lear:
Miss Lucey said it’s a miracle. I thought a miracle was like when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. I don’t’ think it could be about a sieve that doesn’t sink, but the teacher says it’s a different kind of miracle.
“What kind?” I asked.
“It’s when something is impossible,” Miss Lucey said, “but still you can imagine it.”
Miranda believes it impossible that her classmate Darren Hoey can be nice, but the application of her imagination in the story allows for more possibility, not just in outcome, but how she perceives and interacts with him. But has he changed, or is he more like Gran and her quitting smoking: relapsing off-camera. Just who and what are changed by Miranda’s imagination?
Miranda and the reader begin to wonder not only about the power of the imagination, but power of belief. Miranda will revisit her ‘miracles’ conversation with Miss Lucey:
“That’s not right though, It’s when something is impossible but you can believe it anyway.”
“Well,” said Miss Lucey, “that might be a better definition. But the important thing is, you have to have the imagination to make miracles happen, Miranda. That is really all you need.”
Like I said, grown-ups talk in riddles.
How we read that ending is going to rely on our belief as to whether Miranda’s imaginative storytelling will have a miraculous effect.
Words and Imaginations and Young People can be Powerful, but are they Miraculous? In Parkinson’s novel, they are. Miranda keeps a chart to track and record miracles, a reader could do the same for all the ways in which words and imaginations and young people save a life in both small and significant ways throughout the novel. It may just come in the form of a candy bar instead of sandwich-bearing tree; or it could be both in the hands of an imaginative writer like Siobhán Parkinson.
Recommended for readers who enjoy personality-driven novels that applaud real-life imagination like My Name is Mina or Matilda. For readers who like books featuring excellent vocabularies, illness, or grandparents.
Siobhán Parkinson is a novelist and one of Ireland’s best-known writers for children. She has won bagfuls of awards and nominations, and her books have been translated around the world. In 2010 Siobhán was appointed the first ever Irish Children’s Laureate.