Hattie struggles with the complexity of The Big Split: her parents are recently separated, and relationships are strained. Hattie and her little sister Ivy do “week about” between her Mum’s home and her Dad’s new home which creates significant organisational and emotional challenges. Is her Mum serious about moving to the country, which would take Hattie and Ivy away from their father?
As if this isn’t enough stress there’s the daily challenge of school, including a mean friend, cruel teachers and an endless list of rules that squash joy and inhibit Hattie’s favourite activities, such as swinging from the high monkey-bars. Plus, she’s lost her library book somewhere at home when Ivy had a melt-down and wrecked their bedroom.
Hattie dreams of happier family times, with the four of them together at Hummingbird House, the local mansion and its park-like garden. Her happiest birthday celebrations centre around Hummingbird House and its huge mulberry tree. However, Hummingbird House is under threat of demolition for redevelopment into a housing development. Hattie resolves to stop the development to save the house for the community. This strand of the storyline explores community activism and the positive influence children can have on their environment.
There is another more mystical storyline linked to Hummingbird House: on a late night mission to Hummingbird House, Hattie slips through the hedge and finds herself back in the 1970’s, making friends with a mysterious and sad orphan girl who holds the key to Hattie’s future happiness and the fate of Hummingbird House. Hattie’s bravery and resolve are tested as she and her new “not-friend” explore the library at Hummingbird House searching for clues and solutions to the mystery of a lost fortune.
Meanwhile Ivy has brought home an imaginary friend, a big eagle that sits on her arm and accompanies them everywhere. Hattie finds him quite intimidating, and there are some other strange behaviours that Ivy develops over time that link back to Hummingbird House and its history. It seems the past is reaching out to Hattie in many different ways.
Author Julianne Negri has crafted a compelling story with multiple storylines linking present day with both the 1970’s and the gold rush era. There is a theme woven into this story about immigration, assimilation and the sense of never quite belonging in one place or the other. I found the story of Hummingbird House and its previous inhabitants very interesting as it gave a view of different values, behaviours and interests of past Australians.
The Secret Library of Hummingbird House is perfect for young readers 10+ to read independently, and also for parents and young children to read together with many points for discussion about time-slips, moon phases, Australian history and family relationships.