If I were to create a grab-bag of elements that I thought would endear the Story Warren audience to a particular tale, and then randomly choose some and start to write, it’s certainly possible that I would come up with something like this: a middle-grade novel in which girl moves overseas with her family to a castle in Scotland, discovers a WWII-era diary by the castle’s previous owner, convinces her parents to homeschool her, and joins a bird-watching club. Great news, friends—this magical cocktail of delightful story elements exists in real life! I just finished reading Joy McCullough’s Across the Pond, and I knew right off the bat that unless there were some crazy plot twists or awful characters, it was going to be just the right type of cozy middle-grade read that I enjoy, and enjoy telling folks about. If you’ve got some third-to-sixth graders and your summer road trip needs a family readaloud, bring this one along. It’s perfect practice for your Scottish accent!
Across the Pond is told from the perspective of Callie Feldmeth, a bookish twelve-year-old who can’t believe her luck—getting to leave behind the exhausting friend-drama of middle school in San Diego and move to an actual castle in Scotland with her mom, dad, and younger brother Jax. Adventures await, just like in her favorite stories about Narnia and Green Gables. Callie can’t wait for a fresh start, and she’s fascinated by the “scope for imagination” in her new home. But even a short visit to her new school makes Callie realize that the kids in Scotland aren’t that different from the kids at home, and she’s afraid of being hurt again. Callie convinces her parents to let her be homeschooled for the remainder of the school year, and they agree—on the condition that Callie finds a social activity or group with kids her own age. Enter the bird-watching!
I don’t want to give away any endings, so I’ll stop my description there and just tell you what I enjoyed about the book. I loved Callie’s initial excitement about moving—it was refreshing to see Callie and Jax be all-in on this family adventure, rather than groaning about their parents making this life-changing choice for all of them. The circumstances behind Callie’s broken friendships in San Diego are slowly revealed over the course of the book, and I found them both moving and relatable, teaching a good lesson about choices and peer pressure without banging the reader over the head with the message. Callie’s chapters are interwoven with excerpts from the former castle owner’s diary, giving the book just a touch of historical background. I was impressed at how the author paralleled both Callie’s new discoveries about bird-watching and the growing pains of middle school friendships with the diary chapters. Another plotline about Callie’s new friendship with the granddaughter of the estate’s gardener also ties nicely into a community-focused ending, despite some initial mysteriousness.
It was a treat to sit down with Across the Pond and picture myself pulling on some wellies and wandering around the grounds of a Scottish castle with a friend, keeping eyes and ears open for the birds. I hope your family likes this one, too.
Featured image courtesy of the author’s website.