Cover Image: The Song of Seven

The Song of Seven

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Member Reviews

Technically, this isn’t a new book, but since it’s newly translated into English (reading challenge bingo square!), I say it counts. I also say it’s utterly delightful, and you should probably get your name on the library hold list, stat. I have fallen in love over the past couple of years with the weird sweetness — I don’t know how else to describe it — of Scandinavian children’s literature, and I can see that I am going to have to broaden my reading horizons to the Netherlands, too, now.

Frans van der Steg leads the least adventurous life imaginable — except for in his fantastic stories, which keep his class of mischievous students spellbound while he’s telling them. So when Frans gets a mysterious job offer that launches him into an even more mysterious adventure, he’s equal parts delighted and terrified. Frans finds himself tutoring a not-particularly-nice count’s charge at their isolated mansion just outside of town — a job, he discovers, that he’s been hand-selected to do by the boy’s friends in town, who are determined to get him away from his evil guardian. Mixed up in all this is the mystery of the treasure hidden by the mansion’s original count, which legend tells only this particular young boy can discover. Frans must figure out the clues, forge new alliances, and convince his new student that he’s on his side before time runs out.

There are lots of wonderfully weird bits — a happy forest dweller and an anarchistic biker might actually be the same person, a card trick-playing man might actually be a magician, and the mansion’s staircase maze interior creates moments both spooky and hilarious. I love the old-fashioned vibe of the language, which echoes both classic fairy stories and the swashbuckling stories Frans tells his students at school. Geert-Jan, the lonely heir and Frans’ new student, is both lonely and rebellious, and his developing letters-based relationship with the students in Frans’ class is one of the sweetest parts of the book. There’s a motley cast of characters, good and bad, and Frans is a likable hero — choosing an adult to anchor a late elementary/middle grades book like this is an unconventional choice, but something about it really works for me. I’m going to be recommending this to everyone.

(I just discovered that there is a Dutch television series based on this book that’s supposed to stick pretty closely to the story, and I cannot rest now until I get my hands on a copy.)
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Thank you to Puhskin Press for providing an ARC of Tonke Dragt’s The Song of Seven in exchange for an honest review.

What a wondefully made book! The characters connected to me in ways I didn’t know they could. They reached to me in a way no character ever did. The adventures they had were a ride, and I was in for it. Would recommend it to everyone, young or old. Everyone needs to read this!
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One of the perks of being a review is getting the opportunity to review translated stories. In America, or at least the Midwest, it's hard to find anything translated unless it's already famous. Here, in the UK, it's much easier to just stumble across translated fiction and fantasy, and it's definitely an area of the bookstore I'd love to spend more time. There are so many lovely stories out there not originally in English and reading them just expands my heart. But I digress; let me speak of this book particularly. Originally The Song of Seven was written in Dutch and published in 1966. Recently it was republished with a new English translation. While it's definitely a book intended for younger readers it doesn't talk down to the readers (as some middle grade can do) but treats them as equals. Honestly, I think it's the perfect book to read to kids; the experiencing of reading a book about storytelling is just so poetic and perfect.

This is a book about a secret society trying to save a little boy who is heir to a treasure and a school teacher who just kind of stumbles into all of this and ends up being a major player. There's not really much going on outside of this narrative but it's strong as it is. Because Frans had no intention of getting involved, and because he's an outsider, there's a lot of explaining and convincing that needs to happen for him to actually get involved and help, and that's pretty entertaining to read about. He's definitely not the quickest when it comes to secret prophecies and personality changing teenagers. But he's not dumb either, and as soon as he gets aboard and the saving of Geert Jan starts happening the pace quickens and there were many moments where I was at the edge of my seat worrying for everyone.

There's also a lot placed on how important children are and how great they are. The book really does empower children in so many ways. There's a huge plot point (not really a spoiler, though) that is literally the fact that you shouldn't (and they don't) keep secrets from children. I don't think I'm reading too much into the sentiments of this book to say that it's really about children being both children and persons who can do things. They aren't full on adults, but when they work together, or even alone, they shouldn't be counted out and they definitely should be given the responsibility to choose who they want to be and what they want to do. It's so kind and so wonderful towards kids (which is another reason it should really be read aloud to them, or at least handed to them on Christmas Eve-- it's really such good messages!).

Above all I loved how whimsical the writing was. Sometimes it was frustratingly so, in the way that Alice in Wonderland can be frustratingly whimsical. I would probably say some of this does come from the fact that it is a translation, but the story really does have some strange elements that couldn't be tackled straight-forward. At first I wasn't sure how I felt about the writing and this nature of it because it was confusing and there was a lot being thrown at me, but as I got used to it I fell in love. It's definitely convinced me I need to read more of Tonke's work.

Where I really felt let down, though, was with the characters. Sure, they were all distinct, but honestly none of them were that three dimensional. Frans and Geert Jan came close, but no one was truly vibrant in the way I want to read about characters. Whenever I tried to grasp onto one of them they slipped away like a fish. Again, this may have something to do with the translation, and it certainly has something to do with my own personal preference, but it kept me from really connecting with the story.
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I couldn't get past a few chapters of this book. It just wasn't for me. I felt it was very well written but I did not appreciate it since it wasn't really for me. I know a lot of people who would enjoy this though!
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We all have those books that are intrinsically linked to our ideas and memories of childhood and family. They are the books passed down by parents, the books that are read to you when you’re young, the books that have become inside jokes. Most of those books for me are either Dutch or German and have literally been passed down to me by my father and mother. One of these is De Zevensprong, a delightful  adventure about storytelling, reading, hidden treasures and friendship. So when adult me saw an English translation of that childhood favourite, I knew I had to get my hands on it and see if that innocent magic would retain its power not only in another language but also on another, older, me. Thanks to Pushkin Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

So, De Zevensprong, or The Song of Seven, was a major part of my childhood. Some of my favourite memories are of my father reading the book to me when I was young, or Skyping home while at University only to realize my family is binge-watching a Dutch TV adaptation of the book. When a novel is that close to your heart it becomes close to impossible to be objective about it. The same counts for the Harry Potter books, for example. I will defend those books to the death, simply because they have become a part of me and my history. The Song of Seven is special, in a way, because it deals in and of itself with story telling as well. Mr. Van der Steg, a relatively new teacher, entertains his students by telling them wild tales of distant and imagined lands. The children adore the adventure, while he is able to keep them quiet and engaged. All is well, until a new story begins and it comes to life. Stories are no longer a distant thing, suddenly there is danger around the corner and people aren’t who they say they are. What always added to this novel’s magic for me was that it felt so true to the gentle magic of the Eastern provinces of the Netherlands, where folk tales and legends lurk behind every corner and all names and rhymes have meaning and power.

The Song of Seven is a children’s book, but one of those that has something to offer to readers from all ages. At the centre of the novel is teacher Frans Van der Steg, who is still relatively new to his surroundings and his students. Van der Steg is the guiding thread through the novel, desperately wanting to know just what is going on, while trying to live up to the brave heroes of his own tales.  One day, he tells his students he is waiting for a terribly important letter since he can’t think of any stories to tell. Lo and behold, a letter does arrive for him, setting him and his school children on a path of adventure and mystery. The reader is as fresh and unaware as Van der Steg, which means that each of his discoveries and confusions are shared by the reader. Although the novel starts very calmly, the plot really picks up speed about a third into the book and it becomes almost impossible to put down. Tonke Dragt put everything you might want from an adventure story into this book, and yet it never feels to full or unfocused. The mysterious prophecy and confusing Sevenways don’t distract from the importance of friendship and love for adventure that the novel tries to instill.

Tonke Dragt is, rightfully, celebrated in the Netherlands. Her fiction has enriched countless of childhoods with her stories of adventure. Her writing style is straightforward and spare on big words, perfect for the younger readers, and yet, without any fancy frills, Dragt is immensely good at creating atmosphere. Whether it’s the House of Stairs or a rambunctious school class, she describes everything in such a way that you don’t even have to close your eyes to see it. She also doesn’t underestimate her readers, and there are many points in the book that remain mysterious. Dragt retains that sense of magic and legend by not spelling everything out perfectly, nor by giving a reason for everything. Some things just are, and The Song of Seven almost feels like a snapshot, capturing the potential for many more stories to come. De Sevensprong is beautifully translated by Laura Watkinson, who captures the easy flow with which Dragt writes her books, as well as the charming quirks of her characters. I was very happy to see that all the Dutch names were retained, rather than changed, even if they might take some getting used to for English readers. The Song of Seven is the perfect book for adventurous young readers and their parents.

I adored The Song of Seven. It is that simple. In a sense, Tonke Dragt’s books are part of the reason why I have always held the secret ambition to become a writer. Her novels are heartwarming and inspiring, and I’m incredibly happy that her stories will now be available to even more readers.
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I thought this book was delightful!  I didn't realize until I finished it that it's a translation of a 1960s Dutch book.  I think I enjoyed it so much because it has the charm of older fantasy novels such as Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Phantom Toll Booth, etc.  It's quirky, funny, ridiculous, and whimsical!  There isn't much else I can say about it that wouldn't spoil the story.  It's a wonderful read if you want something laid back and just plain enjoyable.
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The link to the review will be added upon completing and polishing the review.
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I was unable to read it before the archive date, but I have seen other positive reviews on this book and I look forward to reading it when it is published.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Pushkin's Children's Books for providing me with an e-copy to read and review.

"The Song of Seven" by Tonke Dragt was a true joy to read. It is perhaps the most exciting fairytale mystery/adventure I have ever read.

Yes, it is that good.

So good that the only thing I felt compelled to do was sit back, relax, and read - and write down names here and there (there are a lot of names to remember!). I constantly had to know what would happen next.

The story is compelling right from is ordinary and humble beginnings. The main character, Frans van der Steg (love his name!), goes from teaching and telling stories to his young class to finding himself in the middle of what could only be described as a story come to life. And certainly not something Frans could ever conjure on his own. The whole thing is ridiculous and wild (in a good way), as Frans would agree, but even he can't escape the magic and mystery of the events that unfold.

The only thing I'm still confounded about is how someone (Frans) could forget a certain something of particular importance for 300+ pages time and time again. It was funny at times but, my goodness, I felt bad for the man.

Truly, "The Song of Seven" is an unexpectedly wonderful story of truly unimaginable proportions.
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This is an English translation of a well-known Dutch tale, one that was even made into a television show.

Mr. Van der Steg is a teacher, who loves to tell adventurous tales to his pupils the last minutes of school—something the pupils enjoy as well. When he announces one day that he's waiting for a letter, said letter is suddenly swept to him in a storm and signed Gr...Gr. He's sure it's a practical joke thought out by some students, but when a carriage arrives to take him to the mysterious Gr...Gr..., the mysterious tale begins.

I have not read the original Dutch version nor have I seen the television version, and knew nothing of this particular tale. 

Different cultures have a different way of telling stories (especially when it's during an earlier decade). The main character of this one is a teacher in his mid-twenties, who has a couple of personalities quirks which are sure to grab young readers' interest. He finds himself in an adventure, where many things are odd and others come across as pure fantasy. Strange things lurk around every bend—mysterious coaches, haunted pubs, magicians and a secret treasure—and each element accompanies an even stranger side character. It has quirks, oddities, and a lovely dose of fun which pulls into an imaginary yet real life world. It's exactly the kind of adventure kids can devour.

The writing is whimsical but, coming from an earlier time, does carry a more traditional feel. Some terms won't be familiar, but it's not enough to let the reader fall out of the story. This is told from an adult's—albeit an interesting ones—point of view, which, combined with the vocabulary, might scare off more reluctant readers if they were to read this one their own.

A wonderful mystery unfolds, which is so wrapped up in the odd happenings, that the clues and truth is hard to guess or find. It's fun to see what will happen next, and there's a nice level of tension the whole way through. As is with these tales, the end truth roots in reality and most of the fantasy elements shed their magic. But there's still a dust of possibility left behind, which allows dreams to fly.

As a translation to introduce English speaking kids to tales from other cultures, this is a well-done book and will draw readers in.
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wonderful story to read during your leisure time........
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I was drawn to the description I was given of this book initially even though it said it was geared towards middle schoolers. I'm so glad I took a chance with this one. What I found is a well written novel full of intrigue, mystery and magic.

Frans Van De Steg is a professor for ten and eleven year olds. When school started at the beginning of the summer semester he found by the end of the day the children were too rowdy. His solution to this was at the end of every day he started telling them of his experiences as a thief and knight and other wildly spun tales with Frans as the hero. He carefully left them on edge wanting more each day and they were well behaved. 

One day he finds himself in the middle of his own tale. A tale he had only started by telling his students he was expecting a letter from an unsavory character. He really was expecting a letter. That night a terribly destructive storm overtakes his home leaving behind a mysterious letter on the doorstep. But not the letter he was expecting. As he follows the directions in the letter he is led to SevenWays. He inadvertently discovers truth behind the nursery rhyme his student often sang called  The Song of Seven. The places in the rhyme are real.

He becomes paranoid that the children are pulling a prank on them but realizes this it much too elaborate. He begins having trouble distinguishing what is real and what is illusion. He finds himself on a quest to save a young boy who is held captive in The House of Stairs, the seventh way in SevenWays that ripple don't think exists. 

This is just the beginning of this adventure. This book is full of puzzles and riddles, leaving you hooked trying to figure out what's going on while Frans interacts with magical people and places trying to come up with an elaborate escape plan and rescue the boy. 

This book is not limited to middle schoolers and I believe anyone over the age of ten can thoroughly enjoy this book. 

I received this novel from NetGalley and the publisher  for a fair and honest review.
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Spare, Vintage Post-Modern (?), Whimsical, Strange, Fantasy Adventure

I very much enjoyed this book, and so want to do it justice in trying to describe it as a reading experience. It was first published in 1966, in Dutch, and has now been translated. Dragt was, and is, rightfully celebrated in the Netherlands and it is a real pleasure to have her available now to English readers. Because many of her books have sci-fi and fantasy elements and are set in near-future environments, and because of her crisp and direct style, (and maybe because of the translator's inclinations), this book has a very modern, and even slightly experimental, feel. 

The story starts off modestly, perhaps with the suggestion that our mild school teacher hero will have a mysterious adventure of some sort that will shake him up a bit. He always ends his class school day with wild made up stories about his earlier life as an adventurer/spy/secret agent, and his tall tales hold his young charges in thrall. But, one day he pretends that he is awaiting a secret terribly important letter. Later, he in fact receives a secret terribly important letter. With that, we are off the rails.

This isn't exactly Lewis Carroll territory, at least not with a literal rabbit hole, but it gets close. A pub that is an abandoned ruin one day is full of customers the next, and then back to being a ruin again. One character appears repeatedly in different guises, and each time denies that he is any of the others. There is a Sevenway intersection in the woods, but possibly with only six paths leading from it. Distances become impossibly long or impossibly short. Everything, including especially time, becomes just a bit distorted and confused and vague. Big houses seem small inside, and vice versa. Hints and clues are cryptic and incomplete. No one can be trusted. How many conspiracies, and conspirators, are there? There is sometimes a sinister shadow over the proceedings. And as the action picks up past the halfway point there are enough odd and quirky characters to populate half a dozen novels.

All of this is written in a spare and oblique style that is descriptive and even sometimes atmospheric, but often suggests rather than explains. Our hero can be quick to anger, or simply bemused. He both  resists the adventure, and yet is quite engaged. He can be detached, confused, or totally focused, often changing from paragraph to paragraph. When he isn't being shrewd he can be dense. Luckily, he never loses our interest, and he is clearly on track ultimately to become the hero he was perhaps always meant to be.

This struck me as a book for an ambitious, independent and confident reader, perhaps with a bit of a taste for oddball adventurers and a certain amount of flexibility in the matter of narrative clarity, and isn't that a nice thing to be able to say?

(Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
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Follow Mr Van der Steg, who entertains his students with fantastic stories, as he is pulled into an incredible one himself. There is mystery, magic, adventure, and danger and it also involves a cheeky and equally adventurous Geert-Jan. Ride the winding story across the seven ways, unwind the prophecy, and find the treasure  at the House of Stairs.
Appeals to readers of all ages.
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I received this ARC copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. So thank you netgalley and publishers.
I know this is a middle grade book but I read it to my 3.5 year old and she loved it! :) ( ive been reading all kinds of books to her since she was a newborn and she has developed a love for books ♡ ) It was very interested and intriguing! She would ask a lot of questions and "read" along with me ( she would repeat what I said )
We both really enjoyed it and so will you! :) The synopsis is as follows 

" An exciting new stand-alone adventure by the internationally bestselling author of The Letter for the King.

Seven paths, seven unlikely friends, and one extraordinary adventure featuring magicians, secret passages, conspiracies, hidden treasures, a black cat with green eyes and a sealed parchment which predicts the future.
At the end of every schoolday, new teacher Mr Van der Steg entertains his pupils with tall tales of incredible events, which he claims really happened to him - involving hungry lions and haunted castles, shipwrecks and desert islands. One day, when he can't think of anything suitably exciting to tell them, he invents a story about a very important letter which he's expecting that evening, with news of a perilous mission. Evening arrives and so, to his surprise, does an enigmatic letter...
And so Mr Van der Steg is drawn into a real-life adventure, featuring a grumpy coachman, a sinister uncle, eccentric ancestors, a hidden treasure, an ancient prophecy and Geert-Jan, a young boy who is being kept prisoner in the mysterious House of Stairs." 

P.s. I was going to rate it on good reads but I could not find it on there.
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