Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head Book Poster Image
Page-turner of a mystery has orphans solving crimes.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about resilience, the power of friendship, regaining trust, creating your own family, being valued for your uniqueness.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Pippa, Sam, Thomas, and Max are not always honest -- they sometimes lie to adults and authority figures -- but it's always in the interest of sticking together or sticking up for one another. Some adults are kind and look out for them, acting as the parental figures they never had; others are simplistically bad.

Violence

A woman plunges off a balcony and dies; a man's body is found hanging from the rafters and disguised as bruised and swollen; a woman is said to have died and had her brain splattered by a streetcar; a man is found dead from poisoning; a boy slings knives at people, pinning them against the wall by their clothing; dead bodies are seen and described in a morgue; a girl dodges being hit by a speeding train; numerous morbid references to death or related objects, such as a mummified toe and an eyeball floating in a jar.

Sex
Language

Name-calling: "idiot" "old hag," "dolt."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief but numerous references to the smell of tobacco, cigarette butts, smoke in the air. Requests for whiskey; a cop says he wishes he had a pint.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Curiosity House: Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver (Liesl & Po) is a fast-paced, engaging tale of four orphans, each in possession of a carnivalesque skill, who band together to solve the mystery of a shrunken head that disappears from the museum they live in. Along the way they discover numerous dead bodies that are somewhat graphically described and maneuver their way around adults and authority figures, while protecting one another and avoiding getting blamed for the crimes. Though the story is enveloped in a cloud of the macabre, it's an entertaining, warm-hearted tale of survival, sleuthing, and friendship.

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What's the story?

Pippa, Sam, Thomas, and now Max all live in the Dumfrey Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. Max's knife-throwing skills are a perfect complement to the other children's skills, such as the strongest boy and the mentalist. But when a shrunken head goes missing, and along with it a string of unsolved murders, the children must band together to figure out who did it before they're hauled off to school and work -- or before the crime is pinned on one of them.

Is it any good?

This captivating whodunnit  blends murder, creepy oddities, relics, and the eerie indifference of city life with tales of friendship, fitting in, and survival. With ominous black-and-white sketches throughout, the story and vibe are skillfully woven for a meaty mystery with a human touch. 

Though CURIOSITY HOUSE: SHRUNKEN HEAD has a slew of murders and a brooding, macabre tone, the children are relatably strange, believably resilient, and, ultimately, survivors who learn to trust each other and navigate a complicated, indifferent world by banding together. The result is a creepy page-turner that has a lot of heart and lessons about the way our differences are often our strengths.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about mysteries. Why are they so popular?

  • Have you ever felt you were different? If so, why? 

  • How are these orphans able to trust one another? 

Book details

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