When the Lyrebird Calls

Written by Kim Kane
Review by Valerie Loh

Twelve-year-old, athletic Madeleine is staying with her eccentric grandmother, Mum Crum, for the holidays. She expects the vacation to be dull and is unimpressed at being packed off. Her grandmother is a force of nature: interested in health, social justice, feminism and a home renovator. Her energy seems boundless.

When Madeleine is swept back to 1900, she is taken in by the affluent Williamson family with their four very different daughters. Gert is clever, and she and Madeleine come up with a plausible reason for her sudden arrival. The truth would have her committed to the asylum, as no one would believe her. There are also strict rules that the girls must obey, enforced by their nanny.

This novel cleverly educates the young reader about how differently many aspects of life were viewed in 1900, revealing how in this class-conscious, racist era, girls and women had little power over their lives and had to use cunning and a good marriage to survive. Many topical issues are included in this adventure, such as the mother’s depression. Also highlighted are the position and place of servants that must not be crossed. Racism towards any who are not white highlights the level of ignorance and mistrust that was acceptable at the time.

This action-packed adventure shows the strength and versatility of the human spirit to survive. All the characters are totally convincing and engaging. The writing is accessible; the detail of the era is beautifully entwined around Madeleine’s adventure – this is a time-slip story, which will make the past relatable to today’s child. Highly recommended for confident readers of 10+.