________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 4 . . . . October 13, 2006


The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken.

Howard Whitehouse. Illustrated by Bill Slavin.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2006.
252 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55337-883-0 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55337-882-2 (cl.).

Grades 6-8  / Ages 11-14.

Review by Maha Kumaran.

*** /4

This is a story of Emmaline Cayley, a lanky girl of 14, who lives with her eccentric Aunt Lucy. Emmaline has dreams of becoming an aviatrix and wants to invent a flying machine. There is only one problem. Emmaline is afraid of flying.

     Then comes the “indestruckable” Rubberbones, a Yorkshire lad from Lower Owlthwaite; a boy who likes watercress-and-earthworm sandwiches made by Aunt Lucy. He is willing to take the risk and fly Emmaline’s contraption. The pair finds a perfect day to fly their machine. But alas! It is not as perfect a day as they thought. And before they have a chance to do much, Emmaline has to go to St. Grimeldas School for Young Ladies, the strictest school in the world. 

     This is where the real mad adventures begin for this is no ordinary school. It is run by Mrs. Wackett, a malevolent, ill-natured bloated reptile, and a matron named Ms. Scantcommon who has the soul of a vulture. It is the kind of school where the students’ punishment is to “clean out the birds.” Emmaline needs all the help from friends and well-wishers to escape from this rotten place. Who is going to help her: The wild-haired Princess, the smirking twins, the knuckle-cracking Gwendolyn, Madam Za Za, or the mad scientist with his fondness for fireworks and interest in propulsive invention? Will she escape or will the birds do to her what they did to Princess Purnah?

     In keeping with Victorian times where the story is set (1894), there is evidence of industrial revolution – what with the mad scientist and his Bellbuckle Aerial Defence Rocket Directional Device Mark I. England in Victorian times was an enormously enlarged empire, and this prosperity gave its citizens a confidence to overcome obstacles. This trait is demonstrated through many characters, especially that of Emmaline. Victorians loved collecting and crammed their houses with useless bric-a-brac much like Aunt Lucy does. They also had a darker side: child labor. The author touches upon this with Rubberbone’s character. Indians in Britain during Victorian times were not a strange thing. The Queen, herself, had Indian servants. Here we have Princess Purnah from Chilgrit, a place far north-east-west of India under the Frizzibuttok mountains and Lal Singh, the only one to understand Chilgriti.

     It was interesting to note the Princess’ character saying something that still rings true to many immigrants: “English people think shouting makes language understood to foreign people.”

     The Strictest School in the World is a good read, but a younger reader might not know the history of the times in which it is set.

     Definitely a good book to read while doing a project on Victorian Era.


Maha Kumaran is the Adult/Young Adult Librarian at the Saskatoon Public Library in Saskatoon, SK.



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