What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that they might be bothered by the amoral attitude of the author toward the stealing by the main characters. Though Prosper disapproves, he participates. Also, Bo's aunt and uncle abandon him to an orphanage because he doesn't behave well, which some children may find disturbing, though it is mitigated by the fact that Bo doesn't want to stay with them either.
What's the story?
After their mother's death, Prosper and Bo run away from their unpleasant aunt Esther, who plans to adopt Bo and send Prosper off to boarding school. Arriving in Venice they fall in with a small group of children who live in an abandoned theater and make a living by stealing, led by a boy who calls himself the Thief Lord.
Tracked by an eccentric detective hired by their aunt, the children instead capture the detective and hold him prisoner while planning a theft, commissioned by a mysterious Conte, of a broken wooden wing that comes from a legendary, and possibly magical, carousel.
Is it any good?
The great popularity of this book with children is something of a mystery. It is very slow to get started, the fantasy element doesn't appear until the last 75 pages, there's little emotional involvement, and the rest of the story meanders as much as the winding canals of Venice. For adults, the story is also problematic -- none of the grownup characters ring true or behave like any adult you've ever met. And the amorality of the children, and the author, is a concern.
But perhaps that's what makes the book appealing to children: For them the fantasy begins long before the magic appears, with self-sufficient children and adults who let them be, crime without punishment, and complete freedom. Living on their own in a theater in Venice, with kindly adults around to care for them but not bother them or make them clean up and go to school, must seem like a magical fantasy to children whose lives are programmed and whose every waking minute is supervised.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about the orphans' lifestyle. What are positive aspects of their lifestyle? What are the risks? Were Prosper and Bo right to run away?