Sometimes, you want a book that challenges you to think deeper and harder. This is not that book. Mandy is pure comfort reading goodness at its best—you know pretty much from page one that everything is going to turn out okay and people are going to live happily ever after, and that’s just fine.
Mandy is a 10-year-old girl living at a perfectly nice orphanage in a small British village. She has plenty of friends and there’s nothing even remotely Dickensian going on, but still, she longs for a home and a family of her own. One day, she climbs the orphanage wall and discovers a little cottage that appears to be completely deserted. She decides a lonely cottage and a lonely girl were meant for each other and sets to work cleaning and cozying up the cottage and its garden. The cottage starts to feel more and more like home—but Mandy’s secret life takes a toll on the rest of her life, with her friends frustrated by her constant sneaking off and the head of the orphanage frustrated by disappearing tools and supplies Mandy’s “borrowed” for her project. Mandy’s so engrossed her cottage life that she takes a big risk that puts her in danger—until she’s rescued by an unexpected friend. (Cue lead-up to adoption and happy ending for all.)
I will admit that I’m a sucker for books where people fix up old houses, and this is probably one of the books that launched that obsession: Like Mary Lennox with her bit of earth or Twig with her tomato can fairy house, Mandy delights in having a space of her very own, and the book lovingly chronicles both her industrious tidying up and its happy results. It’s an old-fashioned domestic story, and even though it was published in the 1970s, it has a timeless feeling. I love how sweet and simple it is. Sometimes, that’s just really what you want: a heartwarming story with lovely domestic details and a happy ending. I especially love that Mandy's life as an orphan isn't terrible—her orphanage is a nice place, the other kids are nice, and the woman in charge is kind. Of course she wants a family, but it's nice to have an orphan story that doesn't start out with a child in utterly miserable circumstances.
It’s recommended for elementary students, but we enjoyed it as a readaloud with a 2nd grader and an 8th grader, and my 8th grader has gone back and reread it on her own a couple of times. If you’re a fan of books like A Little Princess, The Secret Language, Jane of Lantern Hill, or The Secret Garden, I think you’ll really enjoy Mandy. (And yes, it’s by THE Julie Andrews!)