The middle grade fantasy novel The Cabinet of Earths, by Ann Nesbet, is a delightful romp through Paris from the eyes of a young girl. Maya is twelve and has come to Paris with her scientist father, sick mother, and younger brother, James. Maya is tempted by the magical world withing the real Paris, where the Cabinet of Earths offers her mother health in exchange for Maya becoming its keeper. When James is kidnapped, though, Maya must set aside her concern for her mother and save her brother.
Part of the charm of this book lies in the American children as they discover Paris. The language, the architecture, and the culture are as magical in some ways as the building with moving brass salamanders, the half-invisible people, and super-beautiful people and the anbar that keeps them young. It is quite believable that something like the Cabinet of Earths could be as compelling and full of magic as the Louvre to a child.
Throughout the book, Maya exhibits a normal twelve year old’s annoyance with her brother as well as a normal desire for her mother to be cured forever. Most children who have siblings can relate to James and his sister, who love each other and hate each other in turns. Any child who has had a sick parent understands Maya’s desire to heal her mother, and the willingness to do anything to achieve it. The real lesson of this book comes when Maya realizes the price she must pay for her mother’s health is too high. At that point, she has truly become a young lady.