How to Be Brave


Calla is charged that she should be brave when her mother leaves her for six months for the Amazon. After all, her mother is the esteemed Elizabeth North, with an unparalleled knowledge of ducks, including the rare Mallardus Amazonica.

Therefore, Calla is going to the School of the Good Sisters, where Good Sister June will take care of her as she once cared for Elizabeth. However, very little is the same as it was when Elizabeth was at the school. What’s more, it seems that the change is very sudden, for Calla’s new friends, alongside the staff, are in a state of mutiny over the new Headmistress and her team of black-suited businessmen. Who is this woman? What’s more, what does she know of Calla and then Elizabeth? Could this be a case of fowl/foul play?

Daisy May Johnson has taken the beloved boarding school genre, nurtured it and created a deeply satisfying, ginger nut cracking tale of her own. Not only do we share the deep-seated friendships and loyalties identifiable in such stories, but there is malice and detective work to boot. Then there are the staunch and surprising characters- not all of whom are the boarders! How to Be Brave is a superb middle grade story. Bookwagon cannot wait for its sequel!

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How to Be Brave

Daisy May Johnson

(Pushkin Press)

Elizabeth learns How to Be Brave when fate leaves her in the care of the School of the Good Sisters. Yet it’s when she encounters a small brown duck with a broken wing that her future is set. Thereafter, her future includes a daughter, Calla, around whom Elizabeth’s life revolves. However life is difficult. Therefore, when Elizabeth is invited to use her knowledge and research skills regarding a particular, rare breed of Amazonian duck, it seems that Calla must discover her own bravery.
However, the School of the Good Sisters is not as Calla’s mother believes it to be. How does this relate to Elizabeths’ childhood experience of the school? Then again, what has happened to all that nurtured and formed Elizabeth? It seems that from the Good Sisters to biscuits and midnight feasts on the roof, all is denied. Could it be that there is an act of sabotage that might extend to Elizabeth’s research too? Then again, what of Calla? Is it possible that the skills she’s employed to negotiate her mother’s haphazard approach to life and responsibilities might be put to good use here? It seems as though a mutiny is brewing against the very forces that is denying the truth of the Good Sisters.
Daisy May Johnson has created a classic novel for middle grade readers. Not only is the story delightfully involving and endearing, but the nods to favourite biscuits, the footnotes and the characters have us rushing for our hot water bottles. It reminds me of Natasha Farrant’s The Children of Castle Rock. This is story of ever lasting friendship, loyalty, destiny and the freedom to be who we’re meant to be. How to Be Brave is an exceptionally wonderful debut story. We cannot wait for its sequel.


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