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The Bronze Pen

The Bronze Pen

3.7 17
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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Twelve-year-old Audrey Abbott dreams of becoming a writer, but with her father's failing health and the family's shaky finances, it seems there is no room for what her overworked mother would surely call a childish fantasy. So Audrey keeps her writing a secret. That is, until she meets a mysterious old woman who seems able to read her mind. Audrey is surprised at


Twelve-year-old Audrey Abbott dreams of becoming a writer, but with her father's failing health and the family's shaky finances, it seems there is no room for what her overworked mother would surely call a childish fantasy. So Audrey keeps her writing a secret. That is, until she meets a mysterious old woman who seems able to read her mind. Audrey is surprised at how readily she reveals her secret to the woman.

One day the old woman gives Audrey a peculiar bronze pen and tells her to "use it wisely and to good purpose." It turns out to be just perfect for writing her stories with. But as Audrey writes, odd things start happening. Did Beowulf, her dog, just speak to her? And what is that bumping under her bed at night? It seems that whatever she writes with the pen comes true. However, things don't always happen in the way that she wants or expects. In fact, it's quite difficult to predict what writing with the pen will do. Could the pen be more of a curse than a gift? Or will Audrey be able to rewrite the future in the way that she wishes—-and save her father's life?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Set (barely noticeably) in 1973, this relatively straightforward fantasy showcases the beloved author's gift for characterization but not, sadly, her finest example of blending magic and realism. With a father confined to his bed with heart disease and an overworked mother, 12-year-old Audrey Abbott takes solace in writing. It's a testament to Snyder's (The Egypt Game; The Treasures of Weatherby) narrative skills that readers will be intrigued rather than doubtful when a large white duck appears, "almost as if [Audrey] had been expecting it," and guides her to a cave, where she converses with a spooky presence manifested only by its voice. On a subsequent visit, Audrey receives a bronze pen, with instructions to "use it wisely and to good purpose." The rest of the plot revolves around Audrey's gradual realization that the pen brings what it writes into being. The resolution leaves several loose ends (Just who or what is in the cave? Where does the bronze pen come from?), and the magic only occasionally feels fully integrated with the plight of Audrey's family. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Gwynne Spencer
Audrey is an only child and a writer. Her imagination and stamina serve her well in stories, until she meets up with a large white duck that entices her to a hidden hillside cave where a birdlike old woman (or an old-woman-like bird) gives her a special gift: a bronze pen. Audrey is advised to use it to write wisely and to good purpose (a lesson that all writers may need to have burned in their hearts). Other stories are woven into the main story, including one about Lizzie, the gifted artist who is Audrey's good friend and trusting confidante during the weirdest of the weirdnesses that take place when Audrey discovers that the bronze pen has special powers and can make the words she writes come true! Another story thread involves Audrey's hardworking mother Hannah, whose beautiful eyes are legendary, and whose boss is mean and relentless. Add the image of Audrey's father, once hale and hearty and now reduced by heart disease to invalid-status and in need of Audrey's stories. Then there is the dog, Wulfie (enormous and intelligent) and a miscreant bird named Sputnik whose language is pretty raw and whose flight path when released from his cage is orbital. All these elements combine to high drama, good fiction in the tradition of Snyder's Egypt Game in which the obvious and mundane morph into weird and ominous new forms. Audrey learns that the pen and its magic powers can be dangerous as well as delightful. Ultimately, she learns the true meaning of the lesson: Write wisely and to good purpose, not for selfish wishes or wealth. Also of note: The "Green-Sky" series, beginning with Below the Root, which has long been out of print, has been reissued and is once againavailable in paperback. Reviewer: Gwynne Spencer
School Library Journal

Gr 4-6- Audrey's father has a heart ailment, forcing her mother to work full-time at a job she doesn't like in order to support the family. To escape from her worries, Audrey writes stories, and so when a mysterious woman in a cave gives her an antique-looking bronze pen ("Use it wisely and to good purpose"), she immediately sets to work. After writing a passage about a girl who can speak with animals, she finds that she can suddenly understand her dog, Beowulf, and her pesky cockatiel, Sputnik. After a few more similar experiences with the pen, Audrey realizes that it must be magical. Once she figures out some of its rules and limitations, she is able to use it to very good purpose indeed. Readers looking for a full-fledged fantasy along the lines of Edward Eager's Half Magic (Harcourt, 1997) will be disappointed; the magical events are tantalizing but few, and although some hints are dropped, the mystery of the old woman remains unsolved. Audrey is an appealing kid and her thoughts and actions are interesting and believable, but in the end readers may feel that this fantasy does not deliver on its magical promise.-Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library

Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
It seems quite natural for Audrey to follow the duck up the hill to the cave with the old woman in it. When she tells the old woman that her most deeply held dream is to become an author, the woman gives her a bronze pen and the injunction to "use it wisely and to good purpose." Being an author is about the only thing that brings Audrey any joy: Her father is an invalid, wheelchair-bound because of a heart condition, and her mother toils in a miserable job to pay the family's bills. When Audrey realizes that what she writes with her bronze pen comes true, she begins to experiment with ways to change her world . . . but the results are not always what she expects. Veteran Snyder does what she does best, blending grim reality with fantasy so skillfully both Audrey and readers have trouble discerning the boundaries. Secondary characters, from Audrey's peppery new friend to her pets, emerge fully realized. It's a solid, slightly old-fashioned inquiry into the power of the pen, the limits of hope and the necessity of dreams. (Fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

She should have known better than to tell her parents about the woman in the cave. But somehow, sitting at the kitchen table shelling peas while her mother ironed and her father read, Audrey had begun to talk. It hadn't been a conscious decision, but it had suddenly seemed absolutely necessary. And once started, there was no way to stop.

"That cave on Wild Oaks Hill? Way up on that steep hillside, in this weather?" Audrey's mother interrupted before she'd barely begun to explain the situation. "How on earth would an old woman manage to get up there?"

Putting down his newspaper, Audrey's father said, "Do you suppose we ought to do something, Hannah? If the poor thing is homeless, she probably could use some help."

Hannah Abbott, Audrey's mother, came to a quick and firm decision. "Of course. She probably needs to be put in an institution. The police should be notified, and the sooner the better."

"The police?" Audrey and her father asked in unison. And then they went on, talking at once. "No. Not the police," Audrey was saying while her father was asking if that wasn't overdoing it a little. "I shouldn't think it would take a squad of Captain Banner's troopers to bring in one old woman." He was grinning. Audrey's father always grinned when Greendale's chief of police was mentioned. When he had been editor of the Greendale Times, he'd gotten to know the spit-and-polish captain only too well. "Just think what a tough decision the captain would have to make," he went on. "He might have to decide whether it was worth getting his shiny boots dirty. Why not notify someone in social services?"

Audrey's mom always used to laugh at her husband's jokes about Old Spit-and-Polish Banner, but this time she didn't even smile. Instead, she said sharply, "And wait two weeks while they complete all the necessary paperwork? I don't think that's a good idea." She was speaking so loudly that Beowulf, the Abbotts' oversized Irish wolfhound, who was sprawled out under the table, raised his head and let out a reproachful bark. Beowulf disapproved of raised voices.

"Well, you do have a point there. Captain Banner it is." Audrey's father was heading toward the telephone when he slowed his wheelchair, his open hand pressed against his chest. "Do you suppose you could make the call, Hannah? I don't feel quite up to dealing with our heroic captain at the moment." Audrey knew what the sarcastic way he said "heroic" meant. But while Captain Banner was easy to joke about, there wasn't anything funny about the pain in John Abbott's chest.

Audrey's mother paused, iron in midair, her famous eyes (Hannah Elgin Abbott had been named the Girl with the Most Beautiful Eyes in her high school yearbook) narrowing with concern. "Yes. Yes, of course, dear," she said. "You go rest until dinner is ready. Don't worry about it. I'll call Captain Banner just as soon as I finish this blouse."

But as soon as her husband disappeared down the hall, Hannah turned back to Audrey. "But first, young lady, I do want to know how you happened to find this woman. You surely remember that when the Mayberry twins were forbidden to go anywhere near that cave, you were too? Of course, you were pretty young at the time, but later, I believe it was after the Mayberrys moved away, you told your father and me that you would never go there again because the cave was — I think the word you used was 'sinister.'"

Hannah Abbott's smile had a softer, reminiscent look to it as she went on. "Yes, I'm sure that was it. I remember your father and I laughed about it being such a grown-up word for a five-year-old to use. Do you remember telling us the cave was a sinister place?"

"I guess so." Audrey shrugged. "It was a long time ago. I might have said that."

She probably had. She'd been using the "sinister" word for a long time. It was an important word for a writer to know — a mysteriously threatening word that was especially useful when you were writing mysteries or scary fantasies. The game in the cave certainly had been awesomely mysterious and scary. She could still remember how excited she'd been when James and Patricia Mayberry let her play, even though they were so much older.

Of course, the most mysterious and sinister part of the game had been the cave itself. But the whole thing — the Mayberry twins' habit of playing the role of evil pirates one day and their terrified, helpless victims the next — had been absolutely thrilling.

But that had all been years ago, and when the Mayberry family moved away, Audrey really had stopped going to the cave. There had been no pirates' cave adventures for Audrey Abbott for at least six or seven years now. Oh, she'd been back briefly once or twice, just to take a quick look around and remember how exciting it had been, but that was all. That was all, that is, until...

"I know," she began trying to explain. "I do remember promising not to go there anymore. And I wouldn't have gone back, only I was following a — I mean, I was just following the path, taking a walk up there on the hill, and I happened to glance in the cave. That's all I was doing, just glancing in."

"So you glanced in the cave and you saw this old woman?"

Audrey shook her head. "Not very well," she said. "At the back of the cave it's too dark to see much of anything. But I heard her. She talked to me."

Audrey's mother could narrow her large eyes into lash-fringed slits of suspicion. "How do you suppose she managed to get there? How in the world could an old woman climb all the way up that steep hillside?" Hannah Elgin Abbott's smile changed again, and now there was a familiar edge to it. A suspicious edge that had always meant that, while she wasn't exactly going to say so, she really didn't believe a word that Audrey was saying.

Audrey knew what her mother's smile was implying and why — and suddenly her cheeks were hot and she was clenching her teeth. It was true that when she was younger, she sometimes made up things that didn't really happen and people who didn't really exist, like the friendly ghost who lived in her closet and the baby dragon who liked to hide under her bed. But that had been a long time ago, and the only stories she made up now were the novels she wrote in her secret notebook and never mentioned to anyone, particularly not her mother.

She wanted to argue, to tell her mother how much she resented the implication that even now, when she was twelve years old, she still didn't know the difference between what was real and what wasn't. But it was no time for an argument, not when her parents were about to make such an awful mistake.

In spite of her best effort to cool it, Audrey could feel her voice tightening to an angry squeak as she went on. "Mom, you really don't need to call the police. I mean, I don't think there's anything they can do for — for someone like her. I only told you because I thought you might let me take her something from the garden and maybe a blanket. I don't want you to — "

"Woof!" This time Beowulf's bark was an even sharper reprimand.

"Shh!" Hannah told Beowulf, glancing down the hall toward where her husband was trying to rest.

Audrey felt guilty. She should have known better than to let Beowulf know how angry she was — not when her father might hear the bark and guess that she and her mother were arguing again. Reaching down, she patted Beowulf's huge shaggy head and scratched behind his ears until he sighed and wagged his tail.

"Shh! Good dog," Hannah said, and then to Audrey, "I didn't mean the poor thing should be arrested. It just seems from what you've told us, that she obviously is homeless and probably not able to take care of herself."

Her mother didn't understand. Neither of them did. She should have known they wouldn't. Audrey Abbott should have known she couldn't explain the woman in the cave to her parents. They wouldn't understand even if she started at the very beginning — especially if she started at the absolutely unbelievable beginning — and the white duck. Copyright © 2008 by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Meet the Author

Zilpha Keatley Snyder is the author of The Egypt Game, The Headless Cupid, and The Witches of Worm, all Newbery Honor Books. Her most recent books include The Treasures of Weatherby, The Bronze Pen, William S. and the Great Escape, and William’s Midsummer Dreams. She lives in Mill Valley, California. Visit her at ZKSnyder.com.

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The Bronze Pen 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Margaret McGee More than 1 year ago
I have the paper back book and i love it! I hope to get it on here but i bought it in paperback. Get all her books!
julia Feenstra More than 1 year ago
I did not read this book but i read the egypt game from the same author. It was like my favorite book ever so ggooooooddddddddd!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Brittany1843 More than 1 year ago
The Bronze Pen is a good book. The plot is solid, and the writing is good, but I found myself not liking Audrey. She really isn't a good writer, even though she thinks so. Audrey is sure that she's very talented, and that annoyed me. The fact that the book is set in 1973 was thrown in. I had no idea until it was mentioned, and a few clues afterwards pointed to it. I also think that Liz and Audrey both grinned WAY too much, though that isn't a big deal. Overall, I recommend The Bronze Pen to other middle-grade readers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
so far its a good book. i would definetly pick it up again if i saw it. i like it because its inspirational for young writers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was alright. Not the best but not the worst.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story kept flowing without any slow parts. I love Audrey's imagination in her writing and everyday life
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twilightjoejonasgirl4evr More than 1 year ago
this book is the reason im more careful about choosing books!!i read this book while i was in the hospital waiting room,and i have to be honest this book is horrible!!now im not the person to just read a book and hate it.So i tried reading this book many times,and still saw myself saying the same thing!boringly horrible!i just could not get into the story! maybe it's just me but i do not reccomend this book its 100% bad.it could be a lot better!!the story is bad the the only good part is the beginning then it goes downhill,the charecters aren't very realistic.overall i now know don't judge a book by its cover,the only real reason i got this book was cuz it looked good.it was a lesson learned for me.