What You Need to Know:|
• Three quirky siblings go on an unexpected adventure and encounter some unusual characters.
• While definitely odd, the children are intriguing and engaging, drawing the reader in with their sharp minds and
perseverance, despite their sad existence.
• Potter’s writing style is refreshingly unique and edgy.
• The mysterious narrator allows the reader to peek inside the thoughts of each of the siblings.
• Look out for mentions of murder, tattoos, deformities, a mugger, a beating, a dungeon, rats, ominous strangers, a
crush on a teacher, knives, guns, a large cyst and an insane asylum.
• Click here
to learn why Potter included Otto’s scarf in the story.
This story has a sardonic, mischievous edge that sets it apart. There are none of the typical outlandish characters we see these days – no vampires, reality stars or actual murderers - but there are strange and unexpected elements throughout. Potter gives the hint of something unusual on every page. The narrator, one of the three siblings (although they won't say which one) speaks directly to the reader with honesty and an element of humor. The language can be somewhat sophisticated and there may be some challenging words like portcullis, precipice or restive. There are questionable ideas like a career in tattooing people’s bums, creepy situations like rats in the dungeon where they sleep, scary moments when they feel they’re being watched and disgusting images like squeezing a giant cyst (ugh) found on their elderly neighbor. Although things tie up a little too neatly, the dark ending is consistent with the rest of the story and could be disturbing to some young readers.
I'll try to give you a good idea as to what you're in for, without giving away any surprises. In a boring town in England, three siblings named Otto (the oldest at 13), Lucia and Max Hardscrabble are leading a pretty sad existence. Their mother had disappeared years ago, their father often leaves them with a nasty neighbor while he travels to exotic locations to paint fallen royalty, Otto hasn’t spoken in years and their community has ostracized them. Is there mother still alive or was she murdered? Did Otto strangle her? Those are questions that plague these children. When their father tells them that he has to leave quite suddenly for a painting assignment, the Hardscrabble kids set off alone to visit their cousin, Angela, in London. When they arrive and find Angela out of town, things take some unexpected twists and turns. Wondering if their dad, too, has ditched them, they face a night alone on the streets of London, getting a first-hand look at the bizarre characters that roam the city streets after dark. One of these characters confronts the kids and a bloody fight results. They refer to their father’s drawings of various figures like the Sultan of Juwi and the Empress Amalie, to give them courage and strength during these types of difficult situations. With nowhere else to turn, they decide to seek out the help of their mysterious Aunt Haddie. It is with her that they discover another mystery, the whereabouts of the Kneebone boy, which actually leads them to some answers to their own personal problems.
2010, 288 pages
Adventure, Family Life, Friendship, Humor, Mystery, Physical/Mental Differences, Siblings
• Who do you think is narrating the story?
• Was their father right to keep secrets?
• Would you be friends with Otto, Lucia or Max?
• Are the kids better off knowing or not knowing their mother’s fate?
• Will Otto ever speak again?
• What could make you stop speaking?
• Did the ending make you feel happy or sad?
• How do the Hardscrabble kids feel about their parents leaving them? How do you feel when your parents leave you, even for a little while? Are you brave?
• Will Otto, Lucia and Max ever get their mother back?
• Why doesn’t their father like Aunt Haddie?
• Why did the author choose to have the book take place in England?
• Was the story what you expected, based on the book cover?
• Did the story make you feel afraid? Why?
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