Wise Child

by Monica Furlong

Paperback, 1989



Call number

PZ7 .F96638



Random House Books for Young Readers (1989), 240 pages


Abandoned by both her parents, nine-year-old Wise Child goes to live with the witch woman Juniper, who begins to train her in the ways of herbs and magic.

User reviews

LibraryThing member fyrefly98
Summary: When Wise Child's grandmother died, there was no one in the small Celtic village to take her in: her mother had abandoned her and her father was frequently gone on long sea voyages. She is taken in by Juniper, who was a friend of her father's, but is widely feared among the village folk as a witch. Wise Child's afraid to leave the village and go live with Juniper in her house on the cliff, but under Juniper's warm and loving care, she soon comes to feel at home. Juniper teaches Wise Child to read, write, tend the herbs in the garden that are used to cure the ill, and the beginnings of her magical lore. However, Wise Child isn't truly safe, for her mother, the powerful sorceress Maeve, wants to control her, and the village priest is becoming increasingly intolerant of Juniper's presence. If she ever wants to live safely and happily, Wise Child will first have to determine where her loyalties truly lie.

Review: From what I can gather, it seems as though whether people love Wise Child (published first) or Juniper (a prequel, published second) more is entirely dependent on which one they read first. Since I read Juniper (repeatedly) as a child, and only found out that sequels existed once I was well into my twenties, Juniper gets my devotion.

Wise Child is a good read, though, don't get me wrong. It - like Juniper - is an interesting blend of historical fiction with some very plausible fantasy elements woven in. Both books also have a very sensible worldview about life and death and magic and power and love woven through them, motivating the story without beating you over the head with its Morals. The writing's geared for mid-grade readers, but doesn't feel facile to an adult, and the tone of the book manages to be simultaneously light and serious, when appropriate.

Wise Child loses to Juniper on two fronts, though. First, the title character manages to be even brattier than Juniper was at the start of her book, and even by the end, she's never entirely un-bratty. Secondly, the plot didn't seem to hang together very well; the danger that motivates most of the middle of the book is not the danger that eventually leads to the climax, making the whole thing feel a little episodic and disjointed. Overall, though, it's a quick-reading and enjoyable mid-grade fantasy, and I'm sad that this series isn't more widely appreciated. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I'd recommend this to kids (and adults!) who like historical fantasy, stories involving witch trials, or ancient Britain.
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LibraryThing member Dutchgirl73
After Wise Child’s grandmother dies, and her long absent father and beautiful, but wicked mother do not come forward to care for her, she is sent to live with Juniper, the wise woman who both frightens and intrigues her. Wise Child has led a sheltered and privileged life so she is at first shocked by Juniper’s expectations that she will work and study. Gradually, she begins to appreciate the freedom that her responsibilities and education give her, and to see how Juniper’s loving and open-minded ways create far more possibilities for her own life, than the narrow minded ways of her early childhood.

This novel first came out in 1987. Strong female characters, and setting in medieval Scotland make this a story to be remembered long after it is finished. The message of personal value and respect for each person’s ability to contribute to society provides an underlying theme to this story. Recommend this first book in a trilogy to fans of J.K. Rowling, as well as Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley.
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LibraryThing member lauriebrown54
“Wise Child” is the first in a young adult trilogy set in ancient Scotland. The Wise Child of the title does not bear that nickname out of respect at first; it’s a sarcastic term for a child who thinks they know more than others. She’s spoiled and lazy. In the care of her grandmother because her father is at sea and her mother has run away to greener pastures, she finds herself out of a home when the old woman dies. When the nine year old is ‘auctioned’, she finds herself taken in by Juniper, an outsider who does healing and follows the old, pre-Christian religion. Wise Child is terrified; rumor has it that Juniper is in league with Satan, and that horrible things will happen to anyone go is taken to her house. Thankfully, like much of the wisdom children share with each other, these things are untrue. Wise Child has to do a lot of work at Juniper’s house and doesn’t like that, but it’s a far cry from being a human sacrifice. With Juniper, she starts learning things- to read and write and work with herbs- and finds it enjoyable- most of the time. Her life is peaceful, until her mother- who has powers herself and uses them for personal gain - decides she wants her daughter to come live with her, and then village priest decides it’s time to get rid of the local witch.

It’s a very good story, written for ages 10 and up, and interesting enough for adults. It captures what life was like in that era; the enormous amount of work it took to stay alive, the superstitions, the power that Christian priests had even back then when the church young, and in a setting that far away from Rome. The description of Wise Child’s education and introduction to the old religion is fascinating. I had a couple of problems with the book; there are a few anachronisms (there were no fuchsias in the old world in that time and place) and the fact that while the other characters seemed realistic (Wise Child vacillates between happy and fretful at having to work so hard, which any 8 year old would), Juniper seems too good to be true. Not one, no matter what Wise Child or the villagers do, does she ever get mad, frightened or even mildly irritated. Was her training to be a doran so thorough that she attained a complete state of Zen composure? I know that the old religion is being portrayed as being all positivity and love, but Juniper could have stood to have a little bit of negative emotion to make her more human. And, this is not a problem but an observation: while the cover is beautiful in most ways with the herbs and the Celtic designs, the big eyes and facial expressions reminded me of those paintings by Keane in the 1960s, the ones with children with the big, dead, eyes that always creeped me out. But that’s just me.
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LibraryThing member pwaites
Wise Child is a quiet fantasy story set in medieval Scotland. A nine year old girl called Wise Child is taken in by Juniper, the isolated village witch. When Wise Child’s mother, a sorceress who uses her powers for her own gain, reappears, Wise Child will have to choose between two ways of life.

Wise Child is clearly aimed at younger readers. It tends to get shelved as YA, but I’d say MG would possibly be more accurate. It’s short, relatively simple, and has a coming of age theme. Yet, I think it can still be appreciated by older readers. Somehow it reminds me of Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan.

A lot of fantasy stories tend to be on a large scale – battles, apocalypses, struggles for the throne, and so on. Wise Child has a much smaller scale and focus. One of the repeating messages of the book is the value of everyday life. Accepting people who are different than you (say, the village witch) is also a moral at the heart of Wise Child. The messages are obvious, but they never become outright preachy.

I didn’t find the plot itself particularly compelling. The struggle Wise Child is facing with the conflict between her mother and Juniper felt like a foregone conclusion. In addition, an the climax was composed of a completely different conflict which never felt quiet satisfying.

Wise Child didn’t work for me for some reason. Perhaps that isn’t too surprising, given that I’ve compared it to the Earthsea novels I’ve read, which I also wasn’t a huge fan of. It’s not that I disliked Wise Child, it’s just that I never felt much of an emotional involvement. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it, but it’s not going to be a book I go out of my way to recommend.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page.
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LibraryThing member EmScape
This was one of my most beloved books as a child and I'm gratified that it is still a delight to read as an adult.
Due to her grandmother's demise, her father's being away at sea and her mother's....well, not being around, young Wise Child is suddenly in need of adult supervision and a home in which to live. Juniper offers to take her in, and though Wise Child is, like others in the village, wary of the mysterious woman (witch?), she swallows her fear and agrees. The somewhat spoiled but definitely precocious Wise Child is taught the cultivation of herbs, mixing of healing potions, teas and elixirs as well as how to do simple household chores. She's a bit of a brat, but that's kind of to be expected considering her circumstances. Juniper is patient, kind and wise as well as loving and understanding and the relationship between the two grows. Conflict comes from without, though, when Wise Child's mother suddenly decides to reappear.
Furlong's world is well-built, her characters are engaging and dynamic and the subject matter is fascinating. I would recommend this book to all young readers.
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LibraryThing member averitasm
Very good next in the series from Juniper , I really loved this young adult series I am looking for the next one. This is very good information on Pagan type religion, it's light on that and more of a coming of age and what you might need to go through to be who you were meant to be. Very quick un-putdownable read. I would recommend Juniper and Wise child if you want a quick look into what maybe the herb or wise women of the past might(i stress, might) have been like.… (more)
LibraryThing member patricia_poland
One of my all-time favorite reads with strong female characters, one who has learned to trust her strength and wisdom much teach the younger the same. The Prequel, "Juniper" is just as good if not better but alas, the third book, "Colman", should be avoided, as it was more-or-less just a draft that got published anyway.
LibraryThing member Crowyhead
This is a vibrant fantasy about a girl who, when her grandmother dies, falls under the tuteledge of Juniper, the village witch/wise woman. At times it is rather slow-moving and dreamlike, but the descriptions of Wise Child and Juniper's everyday life as they gather herbs and care for the animals of their homestead help ground what could otherwise turn into an overly mystical fantasy.… (more)
LibraryThing member bluesalamanders
My parents gave me this book when I was 10 and I still enjoy rereading it from time to time. It is a historical fantasy about an orphaned girl known as Wise Child who is adopted by Juniper, essentially the village witch. She struggles between the joy in her new life and the disapproval and fear of the villagers - especially the priest - and later between her love for Juniper and the temptation of living like a lady with her real mother, Maeve.

One of my favorite lines in the book is something Juniper says to Wise Child, who grew up spoiled and stubborn:

"You always feel someone must be to blame when you are tired or miserable or frightened, Wise Child. It may not be so at all - it may just be the weather of life - but even if they are to blame...does it matter?"
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LibraryThing member Nikkles
Wise Child was one of my favorite books growing up. It is a simple, but powerful story that is really enjoyable for young adults and regular old adults. The characters are very unique and compelling. Monica Furlong has a great writing style that is enjoyable in itself.
LibraryThing member foggidawn
Wise Child finds herself on her own after the death of her grandmother. Her mother has long since left the village, and her seafaring father cannot be depended upon to provide for her well-being. The village priest asks the parishioners to take Wise Child in as an act of charity, but the whole village is surprised when Juniper, the village witch, offers to take the child in. Under Juniper's care, Wise Child learns about herb lore and healing, and real magic as well. Wise Child learns to love her unusual guardian. But when the tide of sentiment in the village turns against Juniper, will Wise Child and Juniper be able to avoid a terrible fate?

There's wonderful character development here, as well as some very nice worldbuilding. I would like to have a while to explore Juniper's house, which strikes me as a very comfortable and satisfying dwelling. Wise Child comes across as a little bit spoiled at the beginning of the book, but even so I found her sympathetic and interesting. Definitely recommended.
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LibraryThing member comfypants
It feels unfinished, like a number of crucial sections are omitted, or are only summarized.
LibraryThing member foresthalls
For those of us impassioned by herbs, many of us can point to this book as key to igniting that love. How many of us would love to be mentored and cared for by Juniper, and then yearn to grow into a wise woman such as her? Wise Child herself is real and opinionated. It's fun and inspiring to experience how she grows into becoming a "doran," one who is connected with all that is, all of nature.… (more)
LibraryThing member LynleyS
This is an excellent book -- I wish I'd read it when I was a kid when I was briefly obsessed with witches. This obsession was brought on by reading Roald Dahl's *The Witches*, but Wise Child is a far more gentle -- a moral tale without the didacticism -- with lots of wisdom. The story left me feeling that all is well with the world rather than unsettled. In short, both of those books I just mentioned have absolutely nothing in common except for the witches, but both are great in their own way. Wise Child is a book I definitely want my own daughter to read. I'm sure it would help in developing a keen social conscience.… (more)
LibraryThing member t1bnotown
I got a little annoyed about the myth of the wise-herb woman, but otherwise I enjoyed this book. I was disturbed about the loss of the wonderful house, and I wasn't really into the whole broom experience either. I guess I enjoyed it as a story, but I didn't connect to it in a deep way.
LibraryThing member sara_k
Wise Child, Juniper, and Colman are a trilogy by Monica Furlong. Set in a time of early christianity in the (now) British Isles and Cornwall these books are well-told tales of magic, ethics, politics, and religion. Identifying our gifts and utilizing them for good is one of the main ideas throughout all three books. Strong attention is given to actions being more of a identifier of good than beauty and hard work being a better way than shortcuts.

Wise Child, the first book, is about a young girl who needs care and the magic working healer, Juniper, who takes her in and brings her from spoiled to hard working though love and care. Juniper tells the story of Junipoe's journey from princess to medecine woman. Colman tells of Wise Child and Junipers return to Cornwall and their fight to free the Prince from his evil aunt and uncle.

I would recommend this book to the following people I know: A 12 year old girl wo likes fantasy, a 14 year old girl who likes celtic based stories, and a teacher of 4-6th grade for his class library. I also recommend it to a 45 year old woman who had read Wise Child and Juniper but didn't know that Colman had come out.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

240 p.; 4.25 inches


0394825985 / 9780394825984
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