SEWING! NO ONE could hate it more than Dina Kirk.Endless tiny stitches, button holes, darts. Since she was tiny, she's worked in her family's dressmaking business, where the sewing machine is a cranky member of the family.
After writing Nory Ryan's Song and Maggie's Door, two novels inspired by family history, Giff takes another trip back, this time to 1870 Germany. Here she introduces 13-year-old Dina, a spunky, courageous heroine based on the author's great-grandmother. While war rages between Germany and France, Dina is sent to America to stay with her Uncle Lucas, his wife and baby daughter. Believing that all people in Brooklyn, N.Y., live "in luxury," Dina is bitterly disappointed to find out that her uncle is anything but rich. To make matters worse, he is a tailor by trade like Dina's widowed mother, and he expects Dina to continue doing what she detests most: stitching trousers and dresses for wealthy clients. But Dina's skill with a needle along with her quick-wittedness and strong stubborn streak allow her to save the day for Uncle's family more than once. The author offers a realistic portrayal of hardships typical of the period. Dina survives cramped living conditions, a smallpox epidemic, a devastating fire and recurring pangs of homesickness before finding her niche in Brooklyn. While the author develops the relationship between Dina and her uncle subtly and gradually, readers may wish that the blossoming affection between the heroine and her love interest were equally fleshed out. Still, most will empathize with Dina's sorrows and share her gratification when she eventually finds happiness and a profitable, enjoyable vocation. Ages 9-12. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
Wendy Lamb Books
October 12, 2004
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from A House of Tailors by Patricia Reilly Giff
Outside was war. I could hear the pop-pop-pop of the cannons.
Inside was the sewing room. Gray cloth forms of Mama's clients stood along one wall, reminding me of the soldiers we saw on the streets outside, but without their spiked helmets, of course, or their splendid blue tunics with the gold trim.
War! How exciting it was. Our own German soldiers from the Fifth Infantry Regiment had swarmed into our sleepy little town, determined to take on the French who lived just on the other side of the Rhine River.
And that sparkling river flowed so close to our front door I could have tossed a stone from my window and seen the ripples it made in the water.
I didn't care two pins about our Otto von Bismarck and his determination to unite all of Germany in this war. What difference could it possibly make to me?
But I did love to think about those soldiers, who looked so fierce and elegant . . . and who wandered up and down the street so close to the sewing room that I was tempted to tap on the window with my thimble and wave to them.
Mama would have had a fit!
Being a soldier would certainly be better than sitting here in this room sewing buttons on Frau Ottlinger's winter bodice-ten brass buttons from collar to waist?running the thread through the tallow to give it strength.
Frau Ottlinger, Mama's most important client, thought she was going to be a fashion plate this Christmas, dressed in the style of those infantrymen. She was more likely to look like a breakfast bun studded with raisins.
"Dina!" Mama said. Even with her back turned she knew my mind was wandering. And I knew exactly what she was going to say next: "Christmas is almost upon us, and we have dozens of orders still to fill!" As she spoke, she rubbed the already spotless sewing machine wheel with a soft cloth.
That sewing machine! It was like a cranky member of the family that had to be cleaned, and polished, and fed with oil whenever I turned around. And every two minutes it seemed we had to put a new piece of felt underneath to save the rose rug from being worn away.
Today there was a fire in the grate, and smoky lanterns for light-smoky because I had forgotten to wash them. Mama had swished the curtains closed in anger at the first burst of gunfire. "These dresses must be finished tonight," she had said to my sister, Katharina, and me. "Pay no attention to those ruffians out there."
Anyone who disturbed Mama was a ruffian.
Luckily the curtains were opened the width of one of Mama's business cards: Frau Kirk and Daughters-Tailors. I could see part of our little southern German town of Breisach nestled between the mountains and the river, and once in a while a cannon flash as our soldiers fired across that river at the French.
France would be defeated, we knew that. Someone had told Mama the French had no harnesses for their horses, no bullets, and, worse, they were fighting smallpox, a disease so terrible it made me shiver to think about it.
Poor Elise, my French friend for so many years. She lived on the other side of the river, and we had met at a fall festival in happier times, when we were less than ten years old. How often on early sunny mornings we rowed back and forth across the river to trade patterns, and cookies, and gossip.