Anastasia Krupnik is a novel which seems so light that it is can be dismissed as merely another amusing children’s or young adult’s novel. That light appearance, however, hides the fact that the book covers some territory of considerable interest and significance to young readers. In the hands of a less-skilled writer than Lois Lowry, the book could easily have degenerated into the merely silly. As it is, this book is comic, enormously touching, and remarkably insightful.
The novel is primarily concerned with family—the way in which family members relate, the accommodations that they make to the demands of the family situation, and the insights that they acquire. The Krupniks are an example of one of the happier and more functional and loving families in children’s and young adult literature. Even so, the adjustments that Anastasia must make in order to understand and flourish in her family are carefully and splendidly delineated by Lowry.
Anastasia is angry and unhappy at the discovery that she is no longer to be an only child, but she realizes the selfishness and egocentric nature of her attitude even as she experiences it. She is saddened and somewhat repelled by her senile grandmother, but she also realizes the sadness that both she and her parents feel at the clear deterioration of her grandmother’s mental faculties.
Lowry’s skill in character depiction is evident, and both the adults and the younger characters ring very true. Anastasia seems a credible, if very bright, ten-year-old girl. Her father and mother also seem to be believable, realistic parents of a ten-year-old girl. The writer resists the temptation to make any of the characters flat. Anastasia has definite negative impressions of her teacher, the man at the drugstore, and other people. She is forced to revise those opinions, however, upon further encounters. That people are more complex than any initial encounter might indicate is one of the themes of the novel.
Another theme is that Anastasia herself (and, by extension, the reader) is capable of change and growth in the light of developing events. She comes to understand her grandmother, to love her baby brother, and to see that her teacher and others are really not the people she has believed them to be. Indeed, one of the insights Anastasia acquires is the knowledge that teachers can make mistakes, that Anastasia herself is more than the mark she receives on a paper. Students are often conditioned by their school systems to accept their teachers’ evaluations of them, believing that grades are equated with their self-worth. Lowry creates a rebuttal to that commonly held belief.
The sweetness and humor in the novel do not detract from its serious underlying themes, which is probably one of the reasons for the book’s continuing popularity. Anastasia, her parents, and the supporting characters in the novel seem to be genuine, believable, and likable. The bibliotherapeutic uses of this novel are clear, and as an example of the functional family at work, the book may be difficult to surpass.