My lovely mother-in-law, who lives in Australia, recently sent me a book in the mail called ‘Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart’ (adapted by Jane Boulton, Potter Style, 1995). Even though it is written by a six-year-old girl, it is one of those rare books that simply steals your heart. You just have to pass on to someone else, because you want them to enjoy it as much as you did (which I already have). I love it when a book like this falls into my lap–a book I had never heard of, but that leaves a lasting impression.
Opal was a six-year-old orphan who lived in an Oregan lumber camp around at the turn of the previous century. Her heritage has always been a mystery and she is believed to be a descendant of French royalty. She wrote about the adventures she had with her friends Felix Mendelssohn (a mouse), Lars Porsena (a crow), Peter Paul Rubens (a pig) and Michael Raphael (a tree), as well as encounters with some of the human inhabitants of the camp and the surrounding area.
Opal was observant, resourceful and resilient. She was often lonely and misunderstood, and at times her words convey this so clearly that you just wish you could jump back in time and give her a big cuddle (Opal’s words tore at my maternal heartstrings, to say the least!).
The editor, Jane Boulton, has set Opal’s words in verse form, which is wonderful because it emphasizes the poetic and literary qualities of her writing. Childlike as it may be, it conveys wisdom and a grasp of the beauty of nature that will appeal to readers of any age, especially those of us who wish we could view the world through the eyes of a child a bit more often.
Here is an excerpt from the book:
One way the road does go
to the house of the girl who has no seeing.
When it gets to her house
it does make a bend
and it does go its way to the blue hills.
I tell her about the trees talking.
I tell her cloud ships are sailing
over the hills in a hurry.
For those of you who’d like to read the book with your book club or students, Random House has a great online Teacher’s Guide that you can use. Happy reading!
Elizabeth Barlo’s debut novel ‘Ruth 66′ is now available in e-Book and paperback format: