Judy McFarland has believed in the beauty of fairytales since her long-ago childhood in Germany, when books and images instilled in her an existence wrought with beauty and danger.

So it is not surprising that she would find herself teaching kindergarten in a special kind of school based on the principles of Rudolph Steiner. In this excerpt, we see a glimpse of the backdrop for this story:

“The passion I felt for the stories, the methods, the esoteric philosophies of Rudolf Steiner was all-enveloping; I threw myself into it with all the devotion a new convert has to offer. The Kingdom of Childhood, as Steiner called it, was like a magical forest we guarded with a human chain, in which young spirits unfolded like cabbage roses and children could explore with absolutely no fear.”

Even the classrooms seem magically wrapped in fantasy images. Yet all of it contrasts sharply with snippets we slowly see from Judy’s past, from her childhood in Germany where she immersed herself in the fantasies of fairytales to the shocking moments that first nurtured the person she would become later in her life.

A tepid, totally dissatisfying marriage is another piece of the puzzle that becomes Judy’s life, with the shocking choices that unfold that year in Sylvania, Maryland. In the country surrounding the characters, the scandal of President Clinton is also revealing itself to the public, creating a kind of surreal backdrop for what transpires between Judy and a sixteen-year-old boy named Zach Patterson. As a mentor, she quickly moves from the nurturing one to a predator.

But when we look at the events from Judy’s point of view, we see nothing like that. It’s almost as if she has somehow blurred the boundaries in her mind and is reliving some kind of unresolved fantasy from her past.

When we see Zach’s point of view, we also have to question how he figures into this scenario: did his mother’s affair with a younger man somehow confuse many issues for him?

Weaving together the past and the present, along with the varying points of view, we also notice many themes of fire and its dangers, set alongside the fairytale images, replete with monsters.

What factors in the family lives of these characters led to their choices? How did a proper young schoolteacher somehow veer off course in such a dramatic way? And why did none of the adults surrounding the two participants do anything to set things right?

Surprisingly, the twists and turns of The Kingdom of Childhood did not lead the reader to the expected outcome. I know that I was expecting one chain of events, but how it all played out hit me like a sucker punch. As a retired social worker, with experiences with these kinds of inappropriate relationships, I expected to feel more disgusted with Judy’s behavior. Imagine my surprise to find myself understanding her behavior, realizing instead the twists of her psyche that had set her up. Almost as if she, too, were a victim in the piece. Five stars and highly recommended for students of human behavior.



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