Ida B is a planner with big ideas about having fun, avoiding incarceration in kindergarten and managing the trees and the brook on her family’s land. She’s too exuberant for classroom schedules and too sharp to be fooled about it so Mama homeschools her and that is just about perfect. Katherine Hannigan’s Ida B…and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World is the story of how a bright, imaginative and rather stubborn little girl faces the loss of everything comforting she knows and fights back the only way she knows how—with her whole self.
Ida B would be in fourth grade when Mama gets a diagnosis of cancer, Daddy turns into the Deputy of Doom and Disaster and suddenly she is catching the smelly old yellow bus in the morning. So much goes wrong when the tight-knit, warm family is split wide open by illness that Ida B shrinks her heart into a hard black stone and refuses to go along with anything. Part of her beloved orchard is sold to pay the medical bills and the new owners cut down trees who are her friends in order to build a house. The kids in school welcome her but Ida B turns her back on them. Her strong feelings threaten to overwhelm her all the time so she withdraws from the family and nurtures a major case of misery.
But after she discovers how hurtful her clever revenge on the new neighbors is, Ida B begins to feel a little regret. Maybe a LOT of regret. Only fixing what you’ve broken is a million times harder than not breaking it in the first place. As her empathetic teacher gently draws her out in the classroom, Ida B finds a reason to unlock her heart, risk responding to the love and pain of her parents and make her peace with the remaining trees on the property. Damage is damage, she decides. But love is just as enduring and an intelligent and independent soul ought to be able to balance the good and the bad in her life.
The story gets off to a folksy and slow start that made me wonder if I was in for a colloquial slog through cute kids and country living. But Ida B grows on you—the book and the character—and her struggle is very well portrayed. I’d recommend it as a good children’s to younger middle grade book and a particularly excellent choice for a child who is dealing with loss or illness in the family. Even on the dark days, the ones that zoom a million miles beyond wrong, Ida B manages to be fun as well as instructive—snooty cat, slobbering hound, clairvoyant trees, preoccupied but caring parents and all.
Ida B: . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World Katherine Hannigan | Harper Trophy 2004