Ivy Teasel is twelve winters old and impatient
for life outside her sheltered home to begin. She's anxious to shed
her youngling status and grow into a helpful member of her community
and to discover her specific gift or talent. But it's difficult being
the youngest child and only daughter in a caring family with four older
This is the story of nearly one year in her life-as
she begins school and learns more about what it really means to be Smallborn
and how her actions connect with those who surround and care for her-such
as her mother, Thimbleberry, and her father, Poppy, and her brothers
Burdock, Mallow, Sorrel, and the very creative Parsley. Adding to her
personal adventures and misadventures, a mysterious stranger to the
community complicates and disrupts life in the village, but the Smallborn,
as always, put their trust in the Shepherd.
Zimmer, in her debut novel, has created a delightful niche for the Smallborn to inhabit. Readers who enjoy fantasy will be in their element as they encounter such fanciful touches as Grandma Purslane's collection of human dollhouse furniture and a toy tea set, the tiny fairy deer who drop to the ground and refuse to move at the mere hint of trouble, and the detailed description of the Teasel home and meals, including fried cattail, roasted thigh of chicken, and grape-mint jelly. Zimmer plans to continue her protagonist's story in several more books, calling it the Ivy of the Smallborn series.
Each of the seventeen chapters is preceded with a good-sized and very life-like quality illustration depicting a moment or scene from that chapter. These black and white drawings are the work of Kohanski, a talented artist in her own right who also happens to be the author's daughter.
There are certainly religious overtones in the story, but it's presented as part of the Smallborn culture, rituals, and history. Readers learn as Ivy learns, such as in this early exchange with the young teacher, Marigold:
Ivy's year includes learning about the "Binding Ceremony," as when Burdock and Marigold become a couple, witnessing the beautiful "Changing" when one close to her ages and leaves the Smallborn, and discovering and growing into her very own special Gift. At its heart, this is the story of an inquisitive young girl wanting to learn more about herself and the world around her and her journey towards that end.
Robin Farrell Edmunds