The Staircase

The Staircase

4.5 16
by Ann Rinaldi

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How could Lizzy Enders's father abandon her at a girls school run by nuns? She's surrounded by Catholics--but she's Methodist! Shunned by the other boarders, Lizzy befriends a wandering carpenter named José, who with just three tools--and unflagging faith--builds an elaborate spiral staircase in the new chapel in mere weeks. When he disappears without a trace,…  See more details below


How could Lizzy Enders's father abandon her at a girls school run by nuns? She's surrounded by Catholics--but she's Methodist! Shunned by the other boarders, Lizzy befriends a wandering carpenter named José, who with just three tools--and unflagging faith--builds an elaborate spiral staircase in the new chapel in mere weeks. When he disappears without a trace, Lizzy realizes that the way she sees things is not always the way they are.
Inspired by the legend of the "miraculous" staircase in the Chapel of Loretto in Santa Fe, Ann Rinaldi skillfully blends the mystery surrounding the staircase's builder with the daily trials of a spunky thirteen-year-old girl growing up in the 1870s.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rinaldi (The Coffin Quilt) delivers another winning historical novel, this time turning to New Mexico in the 1870s. After her mother dies on the Santa Fe Trail, 13-year-old Lizzy Enders is deposited by her father in a Santa Fe convent school--without even saying good-bye. Pragmatic Lizzy, who is Methodist, chafes at the hypocrisy and injustice she observes: "To have pride was a sin. Humility was everything, though all the girls preened and boasted and glowed when they got praise from the nuns." She is also baffled at the convent's conundrum: the nuns are praying to Saint Joseph for help finishing their newly constructed chapel, which lacks a staircase to the choir loft; Lizzy simply finds a carpenter, the disheveled vagrant Jose. "Saint Joseph will think we have no faith in him!" one of the girls angrily tells Lizzy. The dynamics among the girls seem reductive, especially the tense exchanges between Lizzy and the villainously manipulative Elinora, whose evil deeds include poking out Lizzy's kitten's eyes with an embroidery needle. Fortunately, the highly charged description of the Wild West town (and a subplot involving Jesse James) and Lizzy's relationships with the adult characters prove colorful and lively. An endnote explaining the enduring mystery of the chapel staircase will leave readers pleasantly intrigued. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, November, 2000: Rinaldi is a prolific writer of historical novels for YAs. Here she turns to Santa Fe in the l870s for the setting. Her protagonist is a Methodist girl, Lizzy, who is deposited at a convent school by her grieving father, a widower, as he goes off to seek his fortune in the Colorado silver mines. Her reaction to the Catholic rituals is humorous: "The incense gave me a headache. The mumblings of the priest sounded like Indian chanting. All they needed were some drums..." In the school are wonderful people and ghastly ones too—especially Elinora, the niece of the local bishop, who is a narcissistic teenager, sometimes insisting that she is called to be a nun, and other times running off to be with a boy she thinks she may marry. Elinora is Lizzy's nemesis, and most of the plot pits one against the other. Rinaldi captures the setting well, basing her story on a famous legend in Santa Fe about a mysterious carpenter who came to build a staircase in the Chapel of Loretto in l878. She introduces this man into her plot as someone Lizzy invites in for shelter just as Elinora is organizing a plan to ask St. Joseph to come and construct a staircase for them in time for the Feast of St. Joseph. The bishop, Elinora's uncle, is a wise man, compassionate and understanding. So are many of the nuns and others at the convent. All in all, this adds up to a school story, with feuding girls, in an interesting time and place. The fact that it takes on some aspects of a miracle tale, especially as it is mixed with humor, only increases its appeal as an entertaining story. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2000,Harcourt, 230p. bibliog.,
— Claire Rosser
Ages 12 and older will find The Staircase refreshingly different: it tells of Lizzy, whose father has left her at a girls' school run by nuns on his way to new eXxploration in the West. Methodist Lizzy doesn't understand the Catholic nuns or the girls in the school; but when she befriends a poor carpenter and fights for his rights, she begins to see new potentials in her life.
Kirkus Reviews
Set in 1878, Rinaldi's latest work of historical fiction is at once enlightening and highly engrossing. After the untimely death of her mother, Lizzy's father leaves her in Santa Fe at a convent school. With a healthy sense of irony, Lizzy often finds the convent ways absurd. While many of the girls seek visions of the Virgin Mary, Lizzy is a nonbeliever and without affectation. The girls ostracize her, so she finds friendship with an odd assortment of people, including a homeless, old carpenter in need of food and shelter. Lizzy convinces the Bishop to hire the carpenter to build a badly needed staircase for the new choir loft. The other students resent the carpenter, however, as they await the appearance of a staircase through a miracle of St. Joseph. As the wait lengthens and tempers flare, Lizzy's roommate and nemesis cruelly blinds Lizzy's kitten. The carpenter offers many words of gentle comfort to Lizzy and soothes her wounded kitten. The carpenter is finally permitted to finish his work, and the kitten, against odds, regains its sight. The entire town is awestruck by the incomparable beauty of the spiral staircase, but the carpenter vanishes without even collecting his pay. Lizzy is never converted to Catholicism, but she and the reader are left to ponder the nature of miracles and human kindness. It is a pleasure to accompany Lizzy throughout this tale thrumming with mini-adventures and vivid characters. (author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 12-14)Root, Phyllis ALL FOR THE NEWBORN BABY Illus. by Nicola Bayley Candlewick (40 pp.) Oct. 2000

From the Publisher

"Rinaldi delivers another winning historical novel."--Publishers Weekly
"Engrossing. . . . Thrumming with mini-adventures and vivid characters."--Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Great Episodes
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Sales rank:
590L (what's this?)
File size:
188 KB
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

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The Staircase 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book a lot. It is a good read for anyone and everyone. Lizzy, although not the most religious girl in the world, cares about her pets and dead mother, and doesn't care for Latin prayers. She is different from the Catholics surrounding her, yet matches them – perhaps more – in helping others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
New Mexico historical fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is awesome!!! I recommend it for all ages! This is a very good book! Favorite book of mine! You should definitly read it! :) :D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The staircase is real, I saw it myself.
Daniela Lujan More than 1 year ago
As someone who lives in NM, is a practicing Catholic, have heard the story of the miraculous staircase and seen it for myself- I have to say this was an amazing story & one I could definitely appreciate. Two thumbs way up! ;)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
read it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
not Rinaldi's best. i got bored at times. the legend it is based on is cool, but this one doesn't have enough detail.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ann Rinaldi is a terrific author of historical fiction novels. It is no wonder her books are award winning and widely recognized. After being abandoned at a Catholic convent school by her Father in Sante Fe Lizzie Enders, a 13-year-old Methodist girl struggles to fit in her new home. By inviting a beggar carpenter to build as staircase at the church, she unknowingly participates in a miracle. Ann Rinaldi did a fantastic job at intertwining a classic legend from Sante Fe's history with the adventures of a young girl struggling to grow up in a new place where she doesn't quite fit in. Lizzie has many adventures and makes some good friends along the way, whose stories make it impossible to set this book down. "The Staircase" was a fun and easy read. This book will captivate the imagination of anyone who enjoys historical fiction. It is a great book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read a great many books in my time, literally more then 1,000. And this was most certainly one of the best. Lizzy Enders is a strong and self-sufficent girl, who copes bravely with her father's abandonment, and befriends an old lady, who is considered senial by the nuns. She's the only non-Catholic in the school, and her roommate is the Bishop's grand-niece, who is insufferable. Lizzy is alone in a world she doesn't understand, but not for long. The friends she makes and the adventures she takes leave her memories for a lifetime. And, as as is in all good books, the story has a happy ending, one which will make you smile, no matter what the mood.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lizzie Enders has just witnessed her mothers death, had to leave her best friend, had a 60 day trip to Santa Fe, and her father has just abandoned her at a Catholic School for girls. Lizzie is Methodist and finds it very hard to fit in at a Catholic School. She makes no friends with her peers, but instead with some adults, one of whom is a 'begger man carpenter'. The church is in need of a staircase to the choir loft, so they start a novena for Saint Joseph, yet resent letting the carpenter in to work. Lizzie of course does not understand how they can believe that praying will make a staircase 'magically appear.' Through her struggles in Santa Fe, Lizzie meets many who make a difference in her life and in her opinions. This book was really good, and if you read all of Ann Rinaldi's books like I do, then I definately reccomend reading it, it won't be a waste of time!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very different from Ann Rinaldi's other books. Her other books usually take place in a northern eastern coast city or state. This book takes place in New Mexico. Instead of having English ties, the characters in this book have Spanish ties. Yes, this book is different, and that is why I like it. It does take place in history, of course, but not in a highlighted time of American History. This book concentrates on the life for convent school borders, which was very harsh. If you want to read something different from Rinaldi, then read this. I love all of her other books, but I guess that it just shows that Rinaldi can write in different styles and still make a book great.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey i have to do a book and one of my least favorate genres historical fiction so when i saw this at the library and it was already checked outi thought my nook so is it wotlrth buying or should o get it from my other libraryfor cheap?