HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Jane’s Island
Author: Marjorie Hill Allee
Illustrator: Maitland De Gogorza
Publisher: Woods Hole Historical College, republished 1988
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 12-16
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Allee, Marjorie Hill. Jane’s Island (published in 1931 by The Junior Literary Guild, New York City, NY). Seventeen year old Ellen McNeill from Chicago, IL, has just finished her freshman year at university and is hired for the summer as a governess for twelve-year-old Jane Thomas who lives with her parents and brother Walter, also around seventeen, at Woods Hole, MA, where her father is a scientist studying marine organisms known as planaria in the laboratory there. Also at the institute is Dr. Fritz von Bergen, Dr. Thomas’s college friend who has become embittered through the years due to various problems and is there to prove Jane’s father wrong, and Jim Harrison, a research assistant from the same university that Ellen attends. Although the book doesn’t actually take place on an island, there’s still a lot of coastal boating around islands and poking about on islands so that Jane imagines living on her own private island when she grows up.
Over the course of the summer, Jane and her temporary nanny explore the area and cause a fair share of trouble, while Dr. Thomas comes down with a case of appendicitis. Will Ellen find romance at Woods Hole? What happens between Jane’s father and Dr. von Bergen? And does Dr. Thomas survive his attack? This novel about children’s summer activities and the scientific laboratories in Woods Hole, MA, written by the wife of a marine biologist working at a research facility at Woods Hole, was a runner-up in the Newbery Awards for 1932. There are a few common euphemisms (e.g., heck and gosh), but the biggest complaints that I saw from critics are that the characters are boring and the story is so dated as to be painful. One reviewer said, “It’s an easy-to-read story and I did enjoy Jane quite a bit. But I wouldn’t call this book especially exceptional.”
I guess that this depends upon one’s definition of “exceptional.” The Newbery committee apparently felt otherwise. In the process, young readers can learn a little about the scientific method, grants, research, and sea life. And in addition to the historical depiction of the Woods Hole area from a time that’s mostly disappeared from recent memory as well as the scientific information, a very important message about not judging people and their actions before all the facts are fully known is skillfully embedded in the plot. In spite of the charge of the book’s being dated, another reviewer wrote, “This book has aged extremely well. It was, in fact, re-released in the late 1980s by the Woods Hole Historical Collection.” I would agree that the action moves along rather leisurely without a great deal of excitement, but for those who are willing to invest the time and effort it is a pleasant read.