A Lemon and a Star by E.C. Spykman

A Lemon and a Star
A Lemon and a Star by E.C. Spykman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you know me or have read a handful of my book reviews or blog posts or overheard me talking to a random person on the playground, you know I have a habit of idealizing the time before automobiles and television. Especially before television. This is a nearly direct result of the crying and complaining and whining and begging that ensues when I turn off my son’s Sesame Street or Curious George videos and insist he do something that doesn’t involve him sitting slack-jawed on the floor, staring at the screen of the laptop. I am perfectly capable of placing—and enforcing—limits on screen time, but the whining and begging really get to me sometimes, and I imagine that our lives would improve exponentially if we just lived in a little house on a prairie or in a big wood or on the shores of a lake (preferably a lake with a metallic appearance).

I’m not out-there enough to wish away electricity or indoor plumbing, but on the really rough days, I imagine that I might not mind stoking a fire in the cookstove if I didn’t have to hear my three-year-old beg me for one more “SuperWhy!” episode.

A Lemon and a Star is giving me second thoughts about these half-wishes of mine.

The four Cares kids have no television, and they get into loads of adventures that are even less acceptable to me than hours in front of the tube (which, of course, isn’t even a tube anymore yet I persist in using that term). For one thing, these kids have little to no adult supervision. This would be fine in itself if they were just engaged in idyllic rural pursuits, like picking flowers or challenging one another to foot races or helping one another dig deep holes or whatever very safe and mundane things kids could surely do in the country. The rural pursuits in which these children engage are not safe and mundane. Rather, they involve jumping horses, getting stung nearly to death by hornets, falling in reservoirs, and organizing the neighborhood children to beat up one of their siblings.

But the children are spending nearly all of their time outside, even on rainy days, which I like, and they work together to accomplish common goals. Sure, it’s to do something like assault a townsperson they suspect of stealing from one of them, but still…they’re working together. That’s valuable, isn’t it? And when two of the siblings take the train to the city by themselves (without permission, of course), the strangers there are so concerned with the well-being of two children on their own that the kids are constantly worried they’re going to be found out and returned home.

But I do get the sense that I’m missing some things in this story. For one thing, I can understand the significance of neither the lemon nor the star, although these play fairly significant roles in the book. I wonder what other bits I’m misunderstanding or just missing entirely.

I’m considering reading this book to my seven-year-old, but I’m a little worried that it will give her ideas. At least the Edward Eager books are fiction, and she has little chance of actually finding a magical (or even half-magical) amulet or even of spending a summer with her wealthy aunt and cousins, with or without a magical castle. A Lemon and a Star is a little too realistic for comfort. It’s even set in our current home state, although it bears little resemblance to the New England in which I live.

At any rate, next time I start waxing nostalgic for a screen-free existence I’ve never actually known, I’ll think of A Lemon and a Star and all of the trouble my children aren’t getting into.

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