HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Heavenly Tenants
Author: William Maxwell
Illustrator: Ilonka Karasz
Publisher: Dover Publications, reprinted 2017
Related website(s): http://www.doverpublications.com (publisher)
Language level: 1
(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 6 – 10
Rating: **** 4 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Maxwell, William. The Heavenly Tenants (published in 1946 by Harper and Brothers; republished in 1992 by Parabola Books, a division of The Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition, 656 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012). Mr. and Mrs. Marvell live on a farm near Briggsville in Wisconsin with their children Roger, age eleven, Heather, age eight, and twins Tom and Tim, age five. Mr. Marvell likes to study the stars and tell his family about the constellations, especially the ones in the zodiac. Then in April, the Marvells go to Virginia for three whole weeks to see Grandmother Marvell. Mr. Marvell has made arrangements with a neighbor named August to take care of the farm while they are gone. However, once they arrive in Virginia, Mr. Marvell sets up his telescope but finds it very odd that he can locate none of the zodiac constellations in the sky.
Unfortunately, August is ailing, can’t come, and has no way of telling the Marvells before they have to leave. That night, another neighbor, Jim Hickenthier is awakened by a bright light coming from the Marvells’ house. He and his son go over in their Model-T to make sure that the Marvell house isn’t on fire and find a lot of other neighbors there too. After a couple of weeks, August is finally able to make it over, and he sees that someone else is taking care of the Marvell farm. There are a man carrying water who looks like Mr. Marvell but isn’t, a boy shooting arrows who looks like Roger but isn’t, a little girl picking flowers who looks like Heather but isn’t, and twin boys playing in the sand box who look Tom and Tim but aren’t, along with a milk-white bull, an untethered ram, and a trash munching goat that he had never seen before. Who are these strange people? Where do these new animals come from? And what is causing the mysterious light?
This Newbery Honor book of 1947, wonderfully illustrated with woodcut-style scratchboard graphics, is a lovely introduction to the constellations of the zodiac for children. Even though this is about the zodiac, there is no astrology here except to mention that the study of the stars began with astrologers and to say that “Some people believe that what a person is like depends on the position of the stars at the time of his birth.” Mr. Marvell smokes a pipe and utters the euphemistic phrase, “Confound that August!” One reviewer wrote, “Bizarre tale that earned the honor because of, well, I don’t know why it earned the honor.” However, other reviewers call it a wonderful children’s book that should be revived and brought back to life, a cute older book…different, and a sweet little story about the characters of the zodiac signs. I have always been fascinated with astronomy and think that The Heavenly Tenants, though obviously a fantasy, is an interesting way of approaching the subject for youngsters.