Emily Rodda, Eliza Vanda’s Button Box, HarperCollins Children’s Books, May 2021, 288 pp., RRP $22.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781460759608
Eliza Vanda is a seamstress of quirky nature and magical persuasion. When she arrives in Tidgy Bay, a sleepy seaside town of too few people, and sees the sign Cabins for Rent, Eliza knows she has found the right ‘pocket’ – the perfect place to make her home, for a while anyway. She quickly settles in and, by some mysterious process, manages to furnish the entire cabin with the contents of the few squishy bags she carries with her upon her arrival. The cabins are owned by Rory Dynes, a local painter of some renown and his family – new wife and their newborn baby who are still in hospital and Rory’s daughter Milly who is feeling a bit lost and more than a bit restless. However, with the arrival of the kindly Eliza Vanda, Milly becomes a part of her magical and unconventional world. Life for Milly will thankfully never be the same.
Eliza Vanda’s Button Box is a most beautifully written book in the way it that captures the ups and downs of the ever-present changes within families and the possibilities of a life less ordinary on the outside. From the very first page, in fact from the first sighting of the cover and its title, I was captivated. Perhaps it was the Button Box reference; recollections of a time long ago when plunging one’s hands into Grandma’s collection of buttons was like finding bejewelled ancient treasure. And maybe it was the generous nature of dear Eliza who gently teaches Milly about trust and friendship and mysteries that need no explanation; lessons involving magical adventures and caring companions as she meets a whole bunch of more than unusual friends and acquaintances.
Multi award winning author, Emily Rodda is a most beloved storyteller, and this book reads very much in that style. Rodda gently gathers us into a world that is in some ways familiar in its ordinariness and sometimes suddenly thrust into a world beyond belief. Then, as the mayhem is about to get out of control, Rodda snatches us back into the day-to-day; the everyday of a loving family, kindly townsfolk and at least one annoying neighbour. But there is no time for complacency. Once earthy matters are attended to, Rodda shoots us up into another world of magic and excitement – places of mystery and challenges – where riddles are solved, and survival assured through the cleverness and cooperative actions of Milly and her (mouse-like) companion.
Eliza Vanda’s Button Box is a keeper – for adults and children of all ages – and it will always have a place on my bookshelves. Thank you, Emily Rodda, for reminding all of us that life can become so very ordinary without a little magic.
Reviewed by Jennifer Mors