Today's read is one I've been super-excited to share with you, since I found out I was getting my hands on it. I'm a strong advocate of imagination in kidlit, and this book packs in tons of that, while spinning a very engaging tale. It's placed in the US around the time of the Louisiana Purchase. While it does have aspects which are historically accurate, others take the sure line of fantasy to form an alternate history. But it was the magical objects, which caught my attention on this one. A teapot that always pours hot, fresh tea? Seriously, how could I not wish that something like that were possible. So, this was a must read for me.
And did I enjoy it? Well, if you don't know the answer to that yet, read on...or just read on even if you do.
by Eli Brown
Walker Books US
Middle Grade Fantasy
ages 9 to 12
It’s the early 1800s, and Clover travels the impoverished borderlands of the Unified States with her father, a physician. See to the body before you, he teaches her, but Clover can’t help becoming distracted by bigger things, including the coming war between the US and France, ignited by a failed Louisiana Purchase, and the terrifying vermin, cobbled together from dead animals and spare parts, who patrol the woods. Most of all, she is consumed with interest for Oddities, ordinary objects with extraordinary abilities, such as a Teapot that makes endless amounts of tea and an Ice Hook that freezes everything it touches. Clover’s father has always disapproved of Oddities, but when he is murdered, Clover embarks on a perilous mission to protect the one secret Oddity he left behind. And as she uncovers the truth about her parents and her past, Clover emerges as a powerful agent of history. Here is an action-filled American fantasy of alternate history to rival the great British fantasies in ideas and scope.
* alternate historical setting
* packed with adventure and whimsical magical objects
* darker tones
* friendship and family bonds key
This one is immediately hitting my favorite middle grade reads list for 2021. There are simply so many wonderful aspects at every twist and turn: the writing sits, the pacing sits, the characters are amazing, tension is high, and imagination fills every page. In other words, this one has everything needed to make an amazing middle grade read.
Clover works with her very talented father and travels the border areas of the United States around the time period of the Louisiana Purchase to heal, whoever is in need. Clover is clever and hard working, and has become a noteworthy physician herself even at a young age. But there's one thing her father refuses to teach her or even talk about: Oddities. These magical objects are hidden through-out the world and caused her mother's death. But Clover secretly is more than curious about the Oddities, and when she stumbles across one left in the brush, she's over-joyed. But it's exactly these Oddities which are about to turn her world upside-down.
The idea of Oddities caught my attention right away: a tea pot always pouring hot tea, a rag doll coming to life, a hat to steal all secrets stored in someone's head...the imagination is endless, and this tale lets exactly that soar. We meet Clover right smack-dab in her life as her father's assistant. Her life isn't easy, and while she does have a whimper or two about some aspects, she's proud of him and the job they both perform. Her respect for her father is inspiring, and from her thoughts, it's clear she sees the world through pretty realistic and down-to-earth eyes. She does dream, too, but her asperations are nothing extreme. Add the sad death of her mother, and she's definitely a character root for all the way through. But then, all of the characters in this one are rich and carry enough quirks and corners to make them more than interesting.
This is one of those reads which is hard to put down. Right away, Clover is thrust into an exciting adventure. It's impossible to guess what will come next and what dangers she'll have to face. And there are tons of those. Here, I'll put in a little warning for those more sensitive readers. Clover's adventure is definitely not an easy one, and the evil she's up against shows no mercy. There are several darker moments as vermin are sewn together, deadly shots are fired, and dark creatures attack. None of this is out of range for the middle grade audience, though.
Most importantly, Clover finds the meaning of friendship and family along the way. There is hope even in the darkest corners, and surprises make it clear that not everything is as awful as it might seem (although many things are truly terrible). It's a lovely round-up for an exciting read, and one I can highly recommend.