Our home has grown. Not the walls, but the people living within them. Just after Christmas, my husband, Dana, and I shuffled around beds and bureaus to make room for two young children needing temporary care. The particulars aren’t important, other than to say I’ve discovered how much the human heart is like The Mitten, Jan Brett’s classic picture book in which a child’s lost mitten stretches and stretches to make room for an assortment of creatures who shelter inside.
Books have a way of encouraging readers to reflect on their own lives as they follow the lives of the characters they read about. Late last year, when I received an advanced reader’s copy of Anna Rose Johnson’s soon-to-release middle grade novel The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry (Holiday House, March 5, 2024), I had no idea how much my own life would soon resemble that of the book’s main characters. After the death of her guardian, a spirited young orphan, Lucy Landry, is sent to live with the Martins, a large family living in an island lighthouse on Lake Superior.
No, my family doesn’t live in a lighthouse, and the details of our stories differ. But just as Lucy, a member of the Anishinaabe First Nation, must navigate her place within the Martin family, so our own children – and those in our care – are navigating new experiences and learning new skills as we embrace life together. For Lucy, whose father died in a shipwreck, this includes overcoming her fear of water to track down a prized necklace rumored to have been lost nearby after the wreck of the Elva Jane. Finding the necklace just might bring Lucy the security she craves, but first she must convince the Martins to let her stay – no easy task as Lucy always seems to be in everyone’s way.
As with her debut novel, The Star that Always Stays, an NPR Best Book of 2022, Johnson has constructed a captivating story that encompasses maritime history, the insecurities of adjusting to a new home and a well-crafted mystery sure to engage today’s young readers. As with her previous book, Johnson also highlights her Anishinaabe history and the importance of honoring the past, as the young Lucy learns to speak her ancestral language.
“My mother spoke Anishinaabemowin,” Mr. Martin explains to his homeschooled children. “… I picked up some words here and there, but I never bothered to truly listen to her until it was too late … I don’t want you to lose that language the way I did. It may be fashionable these days to leave one’s heritage behind, but one day you’ll regret not knowing the things your ancestors did.”
As Lucy learns to trust the Martin family, she shares her own story, finding a team of supportive comrades who join her on an adventure that connects them with the world beyond the island – and to someone else who is also seeking the lost necklace. Beautifully written with themes that reflect Johnson’s love for classical literature and the importance of holding onto one’s heritage, this wholesome, heartwarming book is a true treasure. I only hope that our own new householders find our home as warm and welcoming as Lucy did the Martin’s.
Meadow Rue Merrill is the author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, and of the Lantern Hill Farm picture book series, celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. She writes and reads in a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. Connect at: meadowrue.com