Sweep by Jonathan Auxier (9780735264359)
Released September 25, 2018.
Nan Sparrow is one of the only girls working in London as a chimney sweep and she’s one of the best that ever climbed a chimney. She works for a brute of a master who pits her against the other top sweep, dangling an apprenticeship in front of them both. The work they do is dangerous with possible falls, and tight spaces where children can get trapped. Even skilled Nan can get stuck and one day that happens to her and the chimney is set ablaze. As she burns alive, Nan is rescued by a mysterious creature, a tiny char she has been carrying in her pocket that was left behind for her by the Sweep, a magical man who cared for her as a baby and child until he disappeared. Nan and her creature live together away from everyone since they all think she died in the fire. They build a family with one another until the time comes for Nan to stand up for chimney sweeps throughout London.
My goodness, this book is remarkable. I loved the London that Auxier has created for us with all of its Victorian charms. He peels away the charming veneer though and shows us the brutality of child labor, the dangers and the cruelty of chimney sweeping in particular. He blends his fantastic golem into this world, adding a fantasy element to a world that desperately needs some magic to brighten it. Without Charlie, the golem, this book would have been too hard and cold to bear. The same goes for the Sweep, who filled Nan’s early years with care and love.
Nan is a remarkable heroine who is witty, intelligent and caring. She has a wonderfully tough exterior that allows only a few people inside her real life. And yet, she gathers an amazing group of people who care for her and she for them. Throughout the book, Auxier warns readers that Charlie will be leaving eventually and readers will see him start to change through the story. Still, even with that warning, expect the heartbreak of the end of Charlotte’s Web as you read the final chapters. Have tissues at hand.
A new children’s classic that reveals the dark underworld of London and the incredible magic of making your own family, monsters and all. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Puffin Books.
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell
Having loved Rundell’s Rooftoppers, I looked forward to reading this book. I wasn’t expecting such a different read from her first novel. Will has grown up on her father’s farm in Zimbabwe. She plays with the boys on the farm, spending her days on horseback, hanging out with her best friend, and exploring the land. Her days are pure bliss, filled with golden sunshine, fresh air, and freedom. But that is not to last. When her father dies and their farm is sold, Will is reluctantly sent to England to boarding school by her grandfather in a plot devised by her new grandmother. But Will does not fit in with the girls in the school who torment Will because she is different, refuses to comb her hair, and can’t do the schoolwork. There is only one choice for Will and that is to run away and try to survive on her own in the wilds of London.
This book moved me over and over again. First the beauty and the freedom of Will’s life in Zimbabwe is so beautiful and written with a tension. It’s almost as if it is a bubble that must inevitably break, and it does. The father’s death scene is one of the most poignant deaths I have experienced in books for children. Will’s emotions are so strong on the page, that you literally ache for her and for the further changes to come that readers will see much earlier than Will does. Going from such beauty to such loss is wrenching and masterful.
Rundell grew up in Zimbabwe and London, so Will’s time in England is equally well drawn. From the bullying students to the kind teacher to the people she meets on the street, Will encounters all sorts of people. As her situation grows more dire and one thinks she can’t go on, Will draws from the years of golden sun and freedom and continues on. Through it all, that golden light continues to shine, hope glows even in the darkest of times.
Will is a strong, wild heroine, a girl that you want to ride bareback with across Africa and one that all readers will fall madly head over heels for. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
A Possum’s Tail by Gabby Dawnay, illustrated by Alex Barrow
Little Samuel Drew walks along the streets of London pulling his toy dog behind him, headed in one particular direction. He passes all sorts of people, markets, even Buckingham Palace on his way to London Zoo. He sees many different animals in the zoo, but it’s the possum family in particular that he’s come to visit. But when he gets there, they are all hanging upside down by their tails, fast asleep. So Samuel heads back home again, not noticing that the possum family has woken up and have grabbed hold of the dog’s tail and are all five following along behind. Once home after creating chaos on the London streets, Samuel serves tea to the possums. But wait! How will they get back to the zoo? Another kind of tail to the rescue.
Dawnay has written this book in rhyming couplets that skip along merrily. The pacing is brisk and the humor is whimsical and deliciously drawn out as Samuel fails to see the possums until he reaches home. There is a delightful moment as Samuel returns homeward and passes the same people going the other way. The text repeats itself again in a lively way, echoing the journey that Samuel made to the zoo.
Barrow’s illustrations add to the joy of the journeys to and fro. He first shows the bustling London streets in a straight forward way, then on the return trip the possums cause quite an uproar, though Samuel doesn’t notice at all. Children will love looking at both sets of pictures and seeing the differences even though the words remain the same. The illustrations have a vintage feel with Samuel in a sailor suit and the dog on a string that hearkens to books like Madeleine.
A clever cheerful read that explores London with humor and whimsy. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Tate.
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson
Things have been a lot worse for Eel in the past, he now has a place off of the streets where he can sleep safely and he only goes to the River Thames to dig for things to sell to make ends meet. He has serious responsibilities that he keeps entirely private. It helps that he faked his own death to get Fisheye Bill Tyler off of his trail. But Eel still keeps his street smarts and listens, so he knows that Fisheye is back after him. Then in the summer of 1854, his entire world turns upside down and the Great Trouble begins as the Blue Death of cholera comes right into his neighborhood in London. Everyone knows that it is spread through the air, but one doctor, that Eel does small chores for, thinks differently. Now it is up to Eel to help the doctor prove that it is the water that carries the disease before hundreds more die.
Celebrating the visionary Dr. John Snow on the 200th anniversary of his birth, this book successfully mixes historical fact with historical fiction resulting in a dynamic book with engaging characters. At the outset of the book, Hopkinson takes care to make sure that readers understand what living in poverty and parentless was like in Victorian England. She shows the filth, the danger, the loneliness and the skill that it took to survive.
Eel is a wonderful protagonist. He is incredibly smart, driven to help those he cares for, and a mixture of brave and desperate, something that keeps him at the center of this medical mystery. Hopkinson does a great job of keeping all of her characters true to the time period, offering no modern sensibilities into the equation, but presenting it just as it would have been.
This is a dark and thrilling novel that will not let you escape until the epidemic is over and the mystery solved. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by John Hendrix
Enter the world of Charles Dickens’ childhood in this picture book. The fog and cold of London will enfold you, along with the smoking chimneys and the dankness of the Thames. Twelve-year-old Dickens worked in Warren’s blacking factory, wrapping bottles of blacking for sale. He entertained the boy next to him with his stories when they could get away with it. Dickens worked ten hour days and when work is finally completed, he headed home to his tiny attic room where he lived alone. His family was in the debtors’ prison with only Dickens bringing in any money at all. When his father and family is released from prison, Dickens’ life changes and he is finally allowed to go to school. This book celebrates the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth in a way that will resonate with children.
Hopkinson’s story begins with an invitation into London and into understanding the world at that time better. It is actually like entering a novel by the great writer. Readers will chase after the fast-moving Dickens until they figure out where he is headed. There is an element of play and fun from the get-go, even though the subject here is very serious.
Hendrix’s illustrations show the gritty world that Dickens grew up in. Yet all is not fog and work, there is the beauty of story, the world of imagination. It’s an impressive mix of historical accuracy and a more whimsical take on creativity.
Picture book biographies of historical figures can be tricky, since so much information needs to be shared. Here the balance of story telling and imagery is deftly done, creating a book that is noteworthy. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.