Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson

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Puffin 2008
As a child I was fortunate enough to be read to and I am eternally grateful to my Mum for introducing me to Anne of Green Gables. I was intrigued and also slightly dubious when I heard that someone had written a prequel to L M Montgomery's classic story. How could anyone apart from L M Montgomery herself get into the mind of that red haired, stubborn, romantic, impetuous whirlwind that is the Anne Shirley we know and love?

Budge Wilson writes with a confident sensitivity that draws out the story of Anne's early life. Before Green Gables is peopled with immensely complex characters. After Anne's parents die she lives with the Thomas family - father is an alcoholic and mother is struggling to keep her growing family together. Both characters are shown warts and all and the reader is reminded of the little things that affect Anne's life - nobody in the family holds conversations and Anne is never thanked for anything. At the age of nine Anne moves to another family which, due to the woman's propensity for having twins, includes eight children under the age of five. Much of Anne's stoicism must stem from these early experiences.

Hints regarding Anne's future are offered. She already hates her red hair, but feels her nose (inherited from Bertha, her Mother) is quite pretty. She names a pond 'The Pool of Mirrors', a precursor for 'The Lake of Shining Waters' perhaps. Her love of words and books is clear from the start. There is even a mention of the puffed sleeves she so desires that form the basis for one of the stories in Anne of Green Gables. Anne is desperately lonely and creates an imaginary friend in the glass reflection of her parents' old bookcase. This friend, Katie Maurice, is a huge solace to Anne during her time with the Thomas family. When she has to leave the bookcase and Katie behind her grief is palpable. The value she places in later books on her bosom friend Diana is understood.

This is a book for Mums, aunties and female role models to read aloud to the girls in their lives. There is so much to discuss and savour - it's definitely a book to be shared. All in all I was enchanted and on finishing moved straight on to my old favourite Anne of Green Gables. The transition was seamless. What greater compliment could I give?
Claire Larson