Effervescent and captivating, this middle-grade tale boasts a big heart.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

THE CHAOS COURT

From the The Whosebourne Chronicles series , Vol. 1

In this middle-grade debut, a girl leaves her country home for the city and learns about a secret faction of mischief-makers.

Patience Fell has seven siblings. On her 12th birthday, she leaves the family farm to lighten the burden on her parents and to find her place in the world. Armed with only a broom, she rides a turnip cart to the bustling town of Whosebourne. In an alley beside The Crock and Dice inn, she finds a girl crying on a kitchen stoop. When Patience asks if she can help, the girl cryptically replies, “You’re all mad and I won’t fix it!” Suddenly, a whirlwind of trash approaches. While the girl runs away, Patience tries to fend off the trash with her broom. An extended battle reveals a “tiny filthy man” inside the whirlwind. This is the offaltosser. Patience is spared too much thought on this strange phenomenon by the inn’s cook, Miss Alys, who hires her as broom girl. Her first task is to bring breakfast to Miss Crowquill, a poet who lives in the attic. The madwoman possesses a book called The Chaos Court by Johnny Factotum, which describes the offaltosser and other strange creatures. A week later, Patience is picked up by a man in fancy-but-frayed dress named Reynard, who drives her to Pennywhack Manor. She meets the man who runs Whosebourne, the intimidating Keyreeve. In his office, under glass, is “The Key to the Town.” He also owns a copy of The Chaos Court. As far as Patience’s seeing the offaltosser, Keyreeve insists that she repeat, “I saw nothing unusual at all.”

Burnett brings a bit of Dickensian flair to his fantasy novel, creating silly names that are a joy to stumble across, like Shivtickle and Cobblemauler. These flights of verbal fancy hint at the deep strangeness ahead, which may remind readers of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, albeit with one foot more firmly in reality. At first, Reynard appears to be a sympathetic companion for Patience. That role soon falls upon Linus Pennywhack, Keyreeve’s nephew and a blossoming young scientist. Though the narrative isn’t overtly concerned with romance, when Linus shows Patience the stars through his telescope, the characters’ mutual enchantment is palpable. The collective comings and goings of magical creatures serve as a fantastical tide that regularly swells over Whosebourne, as in the scene in which Patience and Linus bounce across the rooftops with the gabledancers. Patience is a charming, determined hero, with an adorable catchphrase uttered in excitement (“Fox in a bonnet!”). Fabulous turns of phrase populate every chapter, like when we meet the unscrupulous Coinquaff, “who’d make a wolf walk the long way round to steer clear.” But Burnett also educates his younger audience by defining challenging terms well. “A hypothesis,” Linus explains, is “a guess about how things might be that you can test by investigating.” The story’s main theme of finding one’s “place in the world” is echoed in the goofy Chaos Court denizens’ names. The creatures have carved out unique niches, a feat to which Burnett’s readers should aspire. The finale offers a meta solution to the plot and creates the potential for further adventures.

Effervescent and captivating, this middle-grade tale boasts a big heart.

Pub Date: March 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73466-420-1

Page Count: 270

Publisher: South Window Press

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

If not as effervescent as Roz’s first outing, it is still a provocatively contemplative one.

THE WILD ROBOT ESCAPES

Roz, a robot who learned to adapt to life among wild creatures in her first outing, seeks to return to the island she calls home.

Brown’s sequel to The Wild Robot (2016) continues an intriguing premise: What would happen to a robot after challenges in an unexpected environment cause it to evolve in unusual ways? As this book opens, Roz is delivered to a farm where she helps a widower with two young children run a dairy operation that has been in his family for generations. Roz reveals her backstory to the cows, who are supportive of the robot’s determination to return to the island and to her adopted son, the goose Brightbill. The cows, the children, and finally Brightbill himself come to Roz’s aid. The focus on Roz’s escape from human control results in a somewhat solemn and episodic narrative, with an extended journey and chase after Roz leaves the farm. Dr. Molovo, a literal deus ex machina, appears near the end of the story to provide a means of rescue. She is Roz’s designer/creator, and, intrigued by the robot’s adaptation and evolution but cognizant of the threat that those achievements might represent to humans, she assists Roz and Brightbill in their quest. The satisfactory (if inevitable-feeling) conclusion may prompt discussion about individual agency and determination, whether for robots or people.

If not as effervescent as Roz’s first outing, it is still a provocatively contemplative one. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-38204-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more