Anne’s Tragical Tea Party – written by Kallie George, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
Tundra Books, 2022
Once again, Kallie George and Abigail Halpin have proven that an original version of a classic, interpreted for younger readers, has a value of its own. Their series of chapter book adaptations of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables stand on their own, not merely as simplified introductions to an inimitable work of literature. This fourth volume continues to present Anne, her friends, and family, as individuals, through language and pictures in dialogue with one another and with Montgomery’s novel. This time, the core of the book involves the delicate incident of the tea party where Anne inadvertently allows her bosom friend, Diana, to get sickeningly drunk, after she offers her the wrong beverage. The fact that the author chose not to avoid this particular event, which is perhaps more fraught in retrospect than when readers first encountered it, is a tribute to their respect for young readers.
Anne is thrilled when Marilla gives her permission to host a grownup-style tea party, in Anne’s mind the pinnacle of sophistication. While it might seem that Anne’s excitement over having a friend over for snacks is no longer obvious to children, George and Halpin perform their feat, once again, of making the experience of children in the past seem completely natural to contemporary readers. After all, Anne has never before had a best friend. Before arriving at Green Gables, she had lived a life of emotional deprivation. Now her guardian, Marilla, has entrusted her with responsibilities and even begun to empathize with her quirky obsessions. A few obstacles remain, namely that Diana’s mother “…was not sure that Anne was a suitable friend for her daughter.” Any insecure child, who is really any child at some point in her life, can relate to this skepticism by a judgmental adult. The expression on Mrs. Barry’s face, between a frown and a sneer, is a bit scary, even though she is involved in the innocent activity of embroidery.
Anne’s joy at earning Marilla’s trust and moving towards adulthood are central to the book. George does not literally imitate Montgomery’s narrative, nor does she betray it with awkwardly modern language. “May I use the rosebud tea set?” Anne asked. That would be a no, but yes to the apparently low-alcohol raspberry cordial in the pantry. This is incredibly exciting: “The sweet red juice looked so beautiful. And it tasted divine.” The problem is, Anne mixes up two red beverages and winds up serving Diana several glasses of currant wine, with a predictable result. Halpin’s picture of an ashamed child sheltered by a compassionate maternal figure, Marilla, shows how unprepared Anne suddenly feels for adulthood. “There are so man responsibilities when you are a grown-up.” That turns out to be an understatement in this case.
Fortunately, Anne has a chance to redeem herself, and to prove that helping others in a crisis is far more important than choosing the wrong bottle, at least when both problems are addressed successfully, and when everyone involved benefits from some good luck. Anne has previous experience caring for children, so when Diana’s sister falls deathly ill, Anne shows her true potential. George spells out for readers that her heroine’s best qualities are not contradictory. With her big imagination and her penchant for flowery speech, Anne is still “the most practical and sensible of all.”
Halpin’s final scene of Anne, Matthew, and Marilla, embracing against a shadowy background has an almost religious intensity. To children, it demonstrates how people who care for you will be there when things go wrong, and hopefully when they turn out right, as well.