How to Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson

I have been somewhat behind on my blog reading of late, so it wasn’t until recently that I saw Daisy May at Did You Ever Stop to Think? talking about the second book in her series coming out that I realized there was a first one.  Happily, that first one was right on the new book shelf at my library, so I checked it out right away. 

How to Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson. Henry Holt, 2021. ISBN 978-1250796080 Read from library copy.

This series is a fresh take on the classic boarding school stories, such as the Chalet School series, which I confess I have never read, though Daisy May is far from the only of my blogging friends who is a fan.  

The story is first introduced to us as a story about people being brave, ducks, and footnotes, told to us by someone who is in the story but not either of our main characters. First, we are introduced to Elizabeth, now a doctor studying ducks, but who as a child, due to very unfortunate circumstances indeed, had to begin at a boarding school run by the Order of Good Sisters, where she rescued a rare duck (thus discovering her life’s passion), and made one very good friend and one enemy.  She was cared for by Good Sister June, taught light aircraft maintenance by Good Sister Honey, and fed rainbow sponge and chocolate custard by Good Sister Robin.  

Then the story skips ahead to the time when Elizabeth is an adult struggling to make a living with her knowledge of the rare Amazon duck without opening it up to exploitation, while her own daughter, Calla, is about the same age that Elizabeth was at the beginning of the book.  Times are hard indeed when Elizabeth receives what seems to be a life-changing offer to study the duck in the Amazon.  To make this possible, Calla must start at the same school Elizabeth once attended – where her mother’s old best friend is now Good Sister Christine, and her mother’s old enemy has recently taken over as headmistress.  Calla is mostly nervous about trying to make new friends when she notices that her mother has missed every one of their scheduled calls…

Calla has taken care of herself and her absent-minded mother her whole life, but now for the first time, she has friends.  Her roommates in the North Tower, Edie and Hanna, are already involved in the revolution against the new headmistress, and are eager to help when Calla finds herself directly under the line of fire.  There are many secrets to be revealed – the rooftop parties, hidden passageways, and cupboards filled with the results of illicit stress baking by the Good Sisters on the way to finding out just what has happened to Calla’s mother – and of course, deposing the evil headmistress.  The book itself is filled with delightful footnote asides from the narrator with thoughts such as

“Under normal circumstances you should not listen to somebody on the phone. Their business is not your business, even if they are talking about interesting and scandalous things.  However, …[this] was a most unusual circumstance, so Elizabeth decided that normal did not apply.” 

How to Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson p 10


“Biscuits should form part of every plan, naturally.”

How to Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson p 135

This was a book about family, friendships, British baked goods, and bravery.  And it was so funny that I found myself reading far more bits aloud than usual to whichever of my hapless family members was nearby.  I will say that though the American cover is lovely, it makes the book look as if it is a peaceful book about spending time in nature with ducks, instead of an action-packed book set in a spirited boarding school.  I have therefore included the UK cover as well for comparison.  

The next book, How to Be True is out now in the UK and will be out September 27 in the US.

About Katy K.

I'm a librarian and book worm who believes that children and adults deserve great books to read.
This entry was posted in Books, Middle Grade, Print, Realistic and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How to Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson

  1. It’s always really interesting seeing US and UK covers side by side, and yes, quite a different vibe! Story sounds fun. Thanks for sharing!

    • Katy K. says:

      I do enjoy comparing covers, both across countries and across different editions! Sometimes I’ve had to show my daughter other covers when she’s immediately turned off by the one in front of her. And this one should be easier for you to get if you want it, too!

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