Saturday, April 14, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces on the Ranch

"Keep an eye on Aunt Jane's Nieces for me, and if they try to leave the ranch... I don't know what you can do."

That was what I told my brother earlier this week when I'd taken my copy of Aunt Jane's Nieces on the Ranch out with us when we went out for dinner. I had to go to the bathroom, so I left the book with him with that warning.

When I got back, he told me Louise tried to leave. Hmm...

Anyway, you can see my copy there, and the front cover picture has gotten some wear over the years. (I actually ran it through Photoshop before posting, so my book actually doesn't look that bright.) If we go by the advertisement again, it could be an original edition, but the frontispiece is missing. However, I have a scan of that from when it was inserted into a late edition of Aunt Jane's Nieces.

And now for the story, probably one of Baum's least complex for the series. (Not that the stories were complex, it's just... never mind.)

It must be at least 14 months since the last book, because Louise has a five-month old baby and is now living with Arthur in a newly-bought ranch in California. Uncle John yearns to see the baby, who is named Jane, and decides to head out to California once again with Louise, Beth, and the Major. Upon hearing the baby was cured from congestion with a home remedy by a Mexican nurse named Inez, Uncle John hires a trained nurse named Mildred Travers to assist in caring for Baby Jane.

Louise is thrilled to have her guests and welcomes Mildred, though Inez is not happy to share duty. In fact, Inez suspects Mildred of being a witch! She told Inez how to open a secret room to store the milk in, and how else would she have known if she didn't have magical powers?

One day, Louise, Arthur, Uncle John, the Major, Beth, and Patsy leave Jane in the care of the two nurses to meet some neighbors. But when they come back home, baby and nurses are gone! None of the other servants saw them leave, but they are not there.

A few desperate scenarios are thought of. Maybe one nurse ran off with the baby and was pursued by the other. Maybe one nurse murdered the other and ran off with the baby. Maybe they're in cahoots!

Fortunately, none of those are true. The truth is, all three are alive and well and nearer than anyone at the ranch may suspect! And the key to this mystery lies in the secret identity of Mildred Travers.

Baum handles Mexicans in this book, unfortunately spelling out a stereotypical dialect for them. (Inez pronounces "Mildred" as "Meeldred.") He also refutes the idea that Mexicans are dishonest and lazy, despite having the long-term servant Miguel often depicted as sleepy. However, he does introduce the idea that they are not perfect: Inez wants to kill Mildred when she suspects her of being a witch, and Miguel has a secret he's hiding. Baum reminds us that the Nieces weren't always such nice people in the beginning, so there is the idea that "yes, Mexicans aren't perfect, but neither are Americans," but for some reason, flawed characters of other ethnic groups get a really bad rap.

I said this wasn't complex. It's pretty straightforward with a small cast of characters, compared to some of the other Aunt Jane's Nieces books. The wonderful thing about Baum is that when he focuses a core group on a task (like the rescue party in Glinda of Oz), it can get really exciting! And when he has a large cast doing many things, it is more like a wonderful romp. This one falls into the former category, and I love reading this type of Baum story.

Two more books left!

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