My son's Mock Newbery Club has started up for 2011, so we're back to reading this year's crop of American books aimed for the 10-14 year old crowd (although, to be honest, he probably reads four of them to my one). But the first book to receive a thumbs up from both of us is a fairly short book with a LONG title: Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset by Tom Angleberger.
Devoted readers of this blog will recognize the author's name as one of the finalists in both my son's and my list for Newbery Winners for the last year. We both loved Tom Angleberger's The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, which I found one of the most original books among Newbery contenders last year, and one of the few that used comedy to deliver a serious message. We also got to meet Tom Angleberger when he spoke at our local independent bookstore, Quail Ridge Books, where he gave a fun talk (including making our own Origami Yodas) and not only signed everyone's books, but also drew a picture of their favorite Star Wars characters! (You can read more about that in this blog post.)
So it is not really a surprise that we enjoyed this book as well. Angleberger's humor transfers well from a group of middle schoolers obsessed with Star Wars to a completely different time and place--Victorian England, captured through an adolescent-level mystery/romance. As with Origami Yoda, Angleberger also drew the illustrations for this book as well, and while they are not really of the style of the period, they are fun and further the story.
I have to say that I don't think I liked this book quite as well as Origami Yoda, mostly because I liked the underlying message of that book so much. But this book can be laughing-out-loud funny, and is also quite original. And it does convey a lot of useful information about Victorian life and conventions, which is valuable. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, it is hard to find juvenile/young adult fiction about the Victorian era that will appeal to boys (mostly, they seem to be romances). But this book definitely fills the bill!
I don't know how the book will fare as we read more of this year's offerings, but it is the first on our list of Newbery possibilities. It is a short, fun read that I think students in this age range will enjoy--and their parents might like it as well.