A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that children, including a toddler, are in constant peril -- injured, kidnapped, enslaved, threatened, tormented, and manipulated. Some children may find the parents, neglectful and disinterested at best, disturbing, especially when the father abandons his children.
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What's the story?
Aurora has always taken care of her younger sisters -- daring, impulsive Storm, and toddler Any -- but since their mother died and their father abandoned them, it has gotten harder. When the evil Dr. DeWilde and his minion wolves invade their home looking for a mysterious pipe their mother left to Storm, they are forced to flee into the woods.
Through a series of perilous adventures they find out that the pipe has magical powers, and that Dr. DeWilde is enslaving children and adults to dig for gems in an underground mine. When he kidnaps Any, Storm and Aurora follow her trail to try to get her back. But that's just what Dr. DeWilde has in mind.
Is it any good?
The Rowling curse strikes again. If author Lyn Gardner had followed the example of Lemony Snicket (whose tightly constructed little books are a clear influence) instead of J. K. Rowling (who virtually invented the fat children's fantasy) this book would have been far better. Buried in its over 400 pages is a fun 200-page fairy-tale melodrama; it's really Snicket crossed with Stephen Sondheim (whose musical play is referenced with more than just the title).
Kids with patience will find an intermittently exciting mash-up of fairy tales. One of the real pleasures of the book is finding all the references. There are also some plot surprises, interestingly flawed characters, and a twisty ethical dilemma to discuss. It's a pleasant yet plodding first effort.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Storm's dilemma. What should she have done when faced with choosing one sister to be freed? She believes she has betrayed her sisters -- has she? In an ethical dilemma in which there is no clear right or wrong, how would you decide? Also, some children may want to read the original fairy tales upon which this novel is based.