The Crow Girl and Eidi, by Bodil Bredsdorff (US editions 2004 and 2009, respectively, Farrar Straus Giroux, middle grade)
The Crow Girl beings at the edge of an ocean, long ago and far away. A girl and her grandmother are the last two people left in a tiny village, barely managing to stay alive with what can be scavenged from the sea. When her grandmother dies, the girl leaves home to find work, following the direction taken by two crows. In the world beyond her home, she encounters people of all sorts...and some, brought together by their loneliness and need, become her family. The little band of children, and one young man and one young woman, go back to Crow Cove together, to live in the haven it offers.
When the sequel, Eidi, begins, a new baby is being born in Crow Cove. And Eidi, the oldest girl in the little clan, feels like her home is too small to share with him. So she sets off to find work, weaving wool for a kind shepherd who was introduced in the first book. An accident on the way to market means that Eidi and the shepherd will have to stay in town much longer than expected. There she finds work weaving for the richest man in town, and there she finds herself falling into the role of protector for the abused and underfed boy whom he hates.
These books are beautifully subtle, told in a calm and understate voice, but full of all the emotions that lie just below the surface of daily life. What I loved most about these books, though, was the way in which Bredsdorff's clear prose brings the far off and unfamiliar to life. I don't know if this is the best example, but it stuck in my mind:
"She took her knife from her belt and dug into a clump of seaweed, and there, at the very bottom, some small pale shoots of sea kale stuck up from the sand like birds' bones." (page 13)
Some credit for this is obviously due to the excellent translations, and in fact Eidi was just awarded a Batchelder Honor (an award that recognizes books translated into English).
I think the covers do a rather fine job showing just what sort of books these are--there aren't any bright colors or flashy action bits. Instead, they are rather dreamy and introspective, and I think that's the sort of middle-grade kid who will love these books most. When Tasha at Kid Lit reviewed Eidi, she said that "reading this second book was like returning to a place you never knew you had been missing." I agree. Crow Cove a place I feel I imagined as a child, when I played my pretend games of being poor and alone...and then went inside, glad to see my family again.