Animals—mythical and extinct—abound in George Drake’s hometown, Squermington.
In Cossanteli’s debut novel, 11-year-old George lives with his frazzled mum and two older sisters. Between his dad’s leaving, large electric bills, and their family’s unsuccessful shop, times are tough. So, in an effort to replace his recently stolen bike, George starts a quest for a job that ends when he comes across a sign that reads, “Help Wanted / Interest In Wildlife Necessary / Must Be The Right Person.” The quirky Mrs. Lind, the owner of Wormestall Farm, and Lo, a tall, blue-eyed boy, orient George in his responsibilities. These include tending to an overprotective dodo, feeding 8-foot carnivorous ducks, milking aurochs, and staying alive. Redheaded Prudence, the new girl at school, also finds her way to the farm, which offers an escape from her villainous, taxidermist stepmother, Diamond Pye. When basilisk Mortifier wanders from the farm, leading to the disappearance of both neighborhood pets and chicken vindaloo from Indian restaurants, it’s up to George and Prudence to bring Mortifier back before Diamond can add the large serpent to her collection. Uneven pacing and clunky plot development mar this otherwise appealing and imaginative story, though Muradov’s stylized vignettes successfully add elements of magic, emotion, and movement to George’s narration.
A mostly enjoyable British import that should be better than it is. (glossary) (Fantasy. 8-12)