Written by: Mira Bartok
Number of Pages: 450
Age Range: 8-12
This was such an unexpected delight! I went into it with zero expectations and was thoroughly entranced. Bartok has created a magical world reminiscent of a slightly steampunk Victorian society filled with villains and mysteries and peopled with all sorts of creatures from humans to regular animals to groundlings. Our main character, 13 (later known as Arthur and then the Wonderling) is a groundling, a hybrid creature part human and part animal (Arthur is part human and part fox.) He’s also an orphan living in The Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, run by the evil Miss Carbuncle.
The orphans there are governed by fierce rules (no talking, no singing) and forced to work in the factory on the orphanage grounds. Life is pretty dreary until he makes friends with Trinket, a bird who has seen the outside world and begins to show Arthur how powerful hope can be. The two unknowingly start a resistance movement and embark on an adventure to find Arthur’s home outside the walls and tumble into Miss Carbuncle’s nefarious plans to abolish music forever.
I was constantly reminded of The Secret of Nimh (which I haven’t read in forever so that could be a completely unfounded comparison) and The Tale of Despereaux as I read, and there are many references to King Arthur. There’s definitely grand adventure and loads of heart in this fantastically satisfying tale. This is Bartok’s first book for young readers and I’m hoping it won’t be her last!