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The Ornament Tree

The Ornament Tree

4.8 7
by Jean Thesman, Houghton Mifflin Co.

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Bonnie Shaster, fourteen and recently orphaned, arrives at her cousin Audra's Seattle boarding house in 1918 and struggles to find her place among a disorderly group of progressive ladies and outspoken gentlemen boarders, among them a handsome but embittered young man blinded in the Great War.


Bonnie Shaster, fourteen and recently orphaned, arrives at her cousin Audra's Seattle boarding house in 1918 and struggles to find her place among a disorderly group of progressive ladies and outspoken gentlemen boarders, among them a handsome but embittered young man blinded in the Great War.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A rich, multilayered novel anchored by a loving, unconventional family. Must the story end here?" Kirkus Reviews with Pointers
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Graduates of the American Girls series who are looking for a slightly more sophisticated read may find what they seek in this period novel about a recently orphaned 14-year-old. There are plenty of surprises in store for Bonnie when, in the year 1918, she moves into her elderly cousins' boardinghouse in Seattle. The clashing personalities of roomers plus numerous household crises-cooks quitting on the spur of the moment, estranged spouses popping up unexpectedly, debts accruing at an alarming rate-create a series of conflicts nobly endured by gracious Cousin Audra and feminist Cousin Winnie, who are both frustratingly helpless at running a business. Although themes remain somewhat unfocused, the backdrop of labor strikes and flu epidemics offer a dramatic portrayal of American life just after WWI. Bonnie's personal dilemmas tend to get lost in the flurry of activity around her, yet the events that she witnesses provide some food for thought. Ages 10-14. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Gisela Jernigan
It is 1918, and World War I is coming to an end. Recently orphaned, 14-year-old Bonnie arrives at the Seattle home of her elderly, but lively, feminist cousin Audra and other strong-minded female relations, including 12-year-old Clare who seems unreasonably unfriendly. Financial need results in cousin Audra taking in male boarders, including Mr. Younger, a young man blinded in the war. Bonnie's attempts to understand Clare and Mr. Younger, to help around the house, and to fit into this unusual but stimulating household are related in a lively, believable way. Conditions of the times, such as the low status of women and the devastation of the Spanish influenza, are skillfully woven into this coming-of-age novel.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-A teacher narrator lovingly recalls the fate of Roxanne, a talented young girl from a mountain village who is best known for raising a bear cub and bringing notoriety and wealth to her gruff grandfather. When a film crew comes to town to put together its own music video version of the Pied Piper using Roxanne and the bear, the appeal of fame and seeing the world lures the girl away. The next day the bear dies. The storyteller says, "There's a lesson to be learned, if one just listens to my tale." This tightly constructed short story has a gentle tone, but is likely to appeal more to adults, who will relate to the elderly narrator and his style, than to children. Charcoal illustrations are soft and blurred, spare and yet suggestive enough to assist readers in visualizing additional details in order to keep the story in mind.-Kathy East, Wood County District Public Library, OH
Hazel Rochman
Like much of Thesman's fiction, this is about a community of strong women across generations. In 1914 in Seattle, 14-year-old orphan Bonnie moves to the boardinghouse of her independent-minded female relatives and becomes involved with the people who live and work there. The panorama is broad, with lots of people coming and going. The focus is on the events of the times, including the end of World War I, the flu epidemic, the labor riots, the start of Prohibition, and, above all, the struggle for women's rights. Bonnie's great-aunts are well educated and progressive; there's no doubt that Bonnie also will go on to college. Thesman has a lot of fun in showing that these "independent" ladies can't even light the stove. She also dramatizes the sadness of class differences. Some of the men are caricatures, but Bonnie's most poignant relationship is with a sarcastic, clever young lodger, blinded in the war, whose love pushes Bonnie to study further and leave him.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.94(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

August 1918

Dear Elena: I haven't heard from you since I came here to live with Aunt Suze, and I'm worried. I hope you and your family are well.

Is Los Angeles still as exciting to you as it was when you first moved there? Did your father find work at the motion picture studio? Is your brother feeling better now? Please forgive all the questions, but it's been so long since you wrote.

At last I'm escaping from this place. As l told you before, l promised Aunt Suze l would stay for the summer to pay her back for helping me arrange Mama's funeral and sell the farm. But I'm leaving today for Seattle, where I'll live with Mama's people in the house where she grew up.

It seems like years since we did our homework together in the back room of your father's shop. Who could have dreamed that he would lose his business and my mother would pass away so suddenly?

Please write to me at the address below. I'm worried about you. Give your family my love.


"You'll regret this, Bonnie. You'll be sorry."

Bonnie looked up briefly at Aunt Suze, and then bent over her suitcase again. Her torrent of curly blond hair fell around her face, hiding her trembling mouth. I won't let her make me cry this time, she told herself. But if Aunt Suze would only get out of her bedroom and let her finish packing!

Aunt Suze leaned her bulky shoulder against the door and folded her hands under her stained apron. "You ought to be ashamed, after everything Don and me done for you since your ma died. It's not cheap these days, feeding an extra kid."

"The lawyer paid you for my board and room," Bonnie said. "He told me that." She folded a summer cotton petticoat and jammed it into thesuitcase. "And I worked. All summer long I worked for you. Now I'm going to Mama's family in Seattle, and I'll go on to college, just as she planned for me."

"Plans have to be changed sometimes," Aunt Suze said. She was wearing the self-satisfied expression Bonnie had come to dread. "None of us ever gets to do everything we want. We have to make sacrifices. You've had more schooling than I ever did, and there's nobody who can say that I don't get along just fine and better than most. What can a fancy private school do for you? And college? You'll end up married, with a house full of kids to take care of."

But I won't be on a farm, Bonnie thought bitterly. The farm is what killed Mama.

But even as she thought it, she knew it wasn't exactly true. Mama died of typhoid fever. But maybe she could have fought it off if she hadn't been so tired. If Papa had still been alive. If the hired man hadn't left for better money in the next town. If the doctor had put her in the hospital in time.

Bonnie folded her second-best blouse carefully, set it on top of the other clothes in the old straw suit case, and then closed the lid. Behind her on the floor, her trunk had already been filled with everything else she owned. In less than half an hour, Mr. Joshua, her mother's lawyer, would take her to the train depot. Late tomorrow afternoon she would be in Seattle, in Cousin Audra's house, and the hot, bitter summer of 1918 would be only a bad memory.

Copyright ) 1996 by Jean Thesman The Ornament Tree. Copyright © by Jean Thesman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Jean Thesman is the author of more than a dozen books for young readers. She makes her home with her husband in Bothell, Washington.

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The Ornament Tree 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked this book! I think Mr. Younger is soooo cute if he were real! Anyway, this book showed love, where Bonnie likes Mr. Younger.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think it was a great book,wonderful. It really is agreat story. Especially Mr. Younger when i read this book i could tell that i would totally fall for him if he were real. And Bonnie was a very smart and ittelectual young woman. i really recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I luv this book! And I picked it up by accident at the library and later, I found that my mistake was a good thing. I think this book shows the feelings of Bonnie, and I think that the mysterious Mr.younger is great. If he were real, I would have a major crush on him!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow! I love this book it's really great and emotional. The characters are very unforgettable. I promise you will never want to put down this book.So, what are you waiting for?
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was sweet and powerful. It's storyline, characters and thoughtful ending, will bring you to your knees. Beautifully written, give it a chance, you'll love it. I'm serious.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVED reading the Ornament Tree! This book was so well written and the main character (Bonnie) seemed so vivid in my mind. This book was a real tear jerker for me! The ending was awesome and I used up the whole box of kleenex! I think I even fell in love with Bonnie's crush! HaHa Go read this book and see for yourself!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I read the summary of this book I didn't think I would like it. I read it anyway and am so glad I did, as it turned out to be one of my favorite books. The characters are so incredibly human and beutifully drawn. It is so captivating to watch Bonnie go from a quiet, shy young girl to an assertive young woman. This book is targeted at preteen girls, but I recommend it for anyone.