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

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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

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However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the...

TUCK EVERLASTING

At a time when death has become an acceptable, even voguish subject in children's fiction, Natalie Babbitt comes through with a stylistic gem about living forever. 

Protected Winnie, the ten-year-old heroine, is not immortal, but when she comes upon young Jesse Tuck drinking from a secret spring in her parents' woods, she finds herself involved with a family who, having innocently drunk the same water some 87 years earlier, haven't aged a moment since. Though the mood is delicate, there is no lack of action, with the Tucks (previously suspected of witchcraft) now pursued for kidnapping Winnie; Mae Tuck, the middle aged mother, striking and killing a stranger who is onto their secret and would sell the water; and Winnie taking Mae's place in prison so that the Tucks can get away before she is hanged from the neck until....? Though Babbitt makes the family a sad one, most of their reasons for discontent are circumstantial and there isn't a great deal of wisdom to be gleaned from their fate or Winnie's decision not to share it. 

However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the first week in August when this takes place to "the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning") help to justify the extravagant early assertion that had the secret about to be revealed been known at the time of the action, the very earth "would have trembled on its axis like a beetle on a pin." (Fantasy. 9-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1975

ISBN: 0312369816

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1975

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WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON

From the Where the Mountain Meets the Moon series , Vol. 1

To change her family’s fortunes, a poor Chinese girl embarks on a fantastical quest to discover she already has everything she needs to be happy. Minli and her parents live in the shadow of Fruitless Mountain, where they toil endlessly. Bitter and resentful, Minli’s mother complains when her husband fills Minli’s imagination with enchanting tales of Never-Ending Mountain and the Old Man of the Moon. “Eager for adventure,” Minli sets out alone seeking advice from the Old Man of the Moon. En route she befriends a dragon who joins her quest. Together they encounter a talking goldfish, a boy with a buffalo, a king, a fierce green tiger and laughing twins before scaling Never-Ending Mountain. Lin deftly incorporates elements from Chinese folk- and fairy tales to create stories within the main story and provide context for Minli’s quest. With her “lively and impulsive spirit,” Minli emerges a stalwart female role model who learns the importance of family, friendship and faith during her amazing journey. Richly hued illustrations reinforce the Chinese folk theme. (author’s note) (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-316-11427-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

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