Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Joan Hiatt Harlow
Historical Fiction
For ages 9 to 12
Simon and Schuster, 2010   ISBN: 978-1416984856

When Poppy was only four-years-old, her mother abandoned her in one of the roughest parts of the city of Chicago. Since then Poppy has lived with Ma Brennan, a woman who takes in girls and teaches them how to steal and pick pockets. The understanding is that the girls will steal for her and hand over their pickings, and Ma will give the girls a roof over their heads (of sorts) and food to eat. Ma is also free with beatings if she feels her ‘students’ are not making enough of an effort.

Poppy hates her life, but she cannot figure out how to escape from it. Then, quite by accident, she literally runs into a boy on the street. The boy, Justin Butterworth, is the son of a jeweler who makes beautiful things for Chicago’s elite. Though they come from very different worlds, Poppy and Justin become friends. This is in large part because of Ticktock, Justin’s sweet pet goat. Poppy goes to see Ticktock and as a result, she meets Justin’s kind sister and mother. Both the women feel sorry for Poppy, and they give the girl food, a new dress, and affection. For the first time in her life, Poppy sees what family life is supposed to be like, and she wishes that she too could have a real home.

Unfortunately, Ma finds out about Poppy’s friendship with Justin and she tells Poppy that she, Poppy, is going to have to help Ma rob Mr. Butterworth’s jewelry store. If Poppy doesn’t comply, Ma will hurt Ticktock. Poppy can hardly bear to think about what Ma could do to Ticktock, but at the same time she has grown fond of the Butterworths and does not want to steal from them, even if Mr. Butterworth thinks she is a thieving street orphan.  Poppy is torn between trying to save the goat and doing what is right by her new friends.

Set in Chicago in 1871, this novel will give young readers two very different pictures of what it would have been like to live in the Windy City at that time. With chapters that alternate between Poppy’s story and Justin’s story, the author gives her readers a thrilling tale that comes to a climax when the famous Chicago Fire breaks out.

At the back of the book, the author provides further information about the setting for the story, and she explains which parts of the story are true and which are fictional.