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A Young Girl Learns the Value of Questioning Authority

 

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Back in March, Kirkus Reviews had a profile of me, in which I discuss my writing, my life, and especially Annabel. You can check it out here.

From the profile:

In Annabel Pickering and the Sky Pirates: The Fantastical Contraption, 13-year-old Annabel, a latter-day Pippi Longstocking, gets ensnared in a battle between authoritarians and freedom fighters after her parents are kidnapped by the police, who turn out to be the bad guys. She finds herself assisted in her own escape by rebel pirates, who turn out to be the good guys.

Bretigne Shaffer, a journalist who has turned to full-time fiction writing, considers themes of betrayal in Annabel Pickering. The middle-grade adventure book follows Annabel’s steam-powered adventures, which transport her from an elite girls’ school to the rule-breaking world of buccaneers. Set in an alternate 19th-century England—illustrated via Florian Garbay’s black-and-white images—Shaffer explores Annabel’s psychological changes as she sees loved ones’ darker sides. Shaffer explains that she wanted to show children the “nature of empire and war, freedom of speech and thought, [and] how prohibition affects society.” She also, she admits, is interested in pirates, having briefly written about piracy in the South China Sea in her past life as a journalist.

In Shaffer’s novel, which Kirkus calls “an engaging introduction to a world of wonder and intrigue,” children are brought up to respect the queen and the near-autocratic rule she enforces over her kingdom. When Annabel’s parents are abducted, she manages to evade capture and takes refuge with eccentric spinster Miss Doubtweather. Eventually Annabel, Miss Doubtweather, and her niece escape with the band of ill-mannered, law-breaking, fabulously brave pirates. 

As Annabel’s understanding of the complexities of intellectual and social freedom evolve and she learns that her kidnapped parents were part of a secret society of freethinkers, she begins to view them as moral heroes. This is heady stuff for middle graders, but Shaffer makes it accessible and age-appropriate. It’s also, she believes, essential for younger readers, particularly American ones, to think about the price individuals and societies pay when respect for authority turns into reverence.

 

 

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