A String in the Harp



Book: A String in the Harp

Author: Nancy Bond

Cover Illustrator: Maureen Hyde

Publisher: Aladdin, reprinted 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0689500367 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 068950036X Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-1416927716 Paperback

ISBN-10: 1416927719 Paperback

Language level: 3

(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 10 – 14

Rating: *** 3 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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Bond, Nancy.  A String in the Harp (Published in 1976 by Atheneum, New York City, NY; re published in 1987 by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Books USA Inc., a division of the Penguin Group, 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY  10014).  Following the tragic death of his wife Anne in an accident, professor David Morgan of Amherst, MA, accepts a year’s teaching position at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth, taking two of his children, twelve year old Peter and ten year old Becky, with him but leaving fifteen year old Jen behind with his sister and her husband, the children’s Aunt Beth and Uncle Ted, for school.  When Jen flies to Wales to spend Christmas with her family, she finds her father preoccupied by his teaching.  Her sister seems to have acclimated but misses Jen terribly, while her brother, depressed and wanting only to go home, is alternately hostile and sullen.  Then Peter secretly tells Jen that he’s found a strange artifact, a harp key that takes him back into history and shows him pictures from the life of Taliesin, the great bard whose life in sixth-century Wales has been immortalized in legend. This seems to have brought him a sense of peace.

At first Jen doesn’t believe him, and she mentions it to a couple of people.  When the key’s existence and its strange properties become known to the wider world, the Morgans must act together against a rising threat to the key and to their family from someone who wants to take it away from them.  Can Mr. Morgan trust Peter to make the right decision?  How do Jen and Becky help him?  And what will happen to the key?  From a positive standpoint, a lot of information about Welsh geography, history, folklore, and culture are woven into the plot.  There is actually an interesting, if somewhat odd and even perhaps a little bizarre, story here that is well written, with good character development and a sustained sense of magic, but it is marred by bad language.  Mr. Morgan constantly uses the words “God” and “Lord” as interjections, and many of the characters seem to use the “d” and “h” words whenever they get angry or frustrated, including the kids, which is both annoying and disappointing.   However, we must remember that this 1977 Newbery Honor Book came after the 1960s when the American Library Association’s Newbery standard switched from truly good to merely relevant and to be considered for the award a book almost has to have some requisite cursing, swearing, or profanity in it.

In addition, some references to smoking cigarettes and drinking ale, sherry, beer, and wine occur.  Some people may not like the way that David Morgan parents his children, either at the beginning or at the end—or both.  One critic wrote, “The Biblical ideal of a family, in which parents love, lead and train their children, is entirely absent.”  Another moped and whined that “Someone is either moping or whining in literally every scene.“  However, a proponent of the book noted, “It is possible to care about each character, even those whose motives or actions seem off kilter. The three children and their father are coping with the sudden loss of their mother/wife in an auto accident….Plus, everyone in the family learns to cope with, lean on and make changes in their family dynamic without the mother/wife.”  And a professional reviewer said, “Far more than you’ll find in most fantasy books, Bond focuses heavily on human relationships.”  To sum it up, there were parts of the tale that I liked and parts that I did not care for.

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