The Ear, the Eye and the Arm

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
The Ear, the Eye and the Arm Book Poster Image
Amazing adventure about siblings lost in a future Zimbabwe.

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Kids say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn something about Zimbabwean culture, including about the immigrants who live there. They also will learn about Praise Singing, traditional food, beliefs, and more. Younger readers might need some help sorting out what's real from what's made up.

Positive Messages

There's a message about what it takes to have true courage. Readers will be challenged to think about the different moral choices the characters make -- from the She Elephant, who kidnaps children but also takes care of her people, to the Mellower, who can't stand up to his mother when it really counts -- and think about what drives their choices and how harshly those characters should be judged in the end. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tendai and his sister are loyal to each other and work hard to stay together and get back home. He proves his sensitivity is actually an asset. Rita is mouthy and negative at times but not afraid to stand up for what's right. Their mother's a strong person who will do whatever it takes to get her children back, including picking up a gun. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm all are different-looking because their mothers drank polluted water during pregnancy, but they try to use their differences (even the fact that their presence scares others) to help people and get the kids home. 

Violence

The kids are in constant peril: They're kidnapped, enslaved, and ultimately threatened with torture and death. In one culture, people believe that to wake the gods, human sacrifices must be tortured. In another, people suspected of witchcraft must drink a poison that makes them vomit or have diarrhea. In a final face-off, several characters are wounded, and spirits come to life, possessing characters and a frightening mask.

Sex

Rita makes a reference to Roman orgies. In the traditional village, a girl is married at age 12 and pregnant at 14. 

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several characters are alcoholics. The She Elephant makes and sells alcohol. In a bad neighborhood, "Drugs were bought as easily as bananas. Beer halls blasted music that made everyone's ribs rattle."   

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Nancy Farmer's Newbery Honor book The Ear, the Eye and the Arm is a fantasy adventure set in Zimbabwe in 2194. Both child protagonists are in constant peril: They're kidnapped, enslaved, and ultimately threatened with torture and death. There are guns and shootings. In a final face-off, several characters are wounded, and spirits come to life, possessing characters and a frightening mask. In one culture, people believe that to wake the gods, human sacrifices must be tortured. In another, people suspected of witchcraft must drink a poison that makes them vomit or have diarrhea. Several characters are alcoholics. The She Elephant makes and sells alcohol. In a bad neighborhood, "Drugs were bought as easily as bananas." A character makes a reference to Roman orgies. In the traditional village, a girl is married at age 12 and pregnant at 14. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (detectives so-named for their unusual appearance and supernatural abilities) look different because their mothers drank polluted water during pregnancy. But they use their differences to try to help people and get the kids home. 

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written byLuke Starkiller February 23, 2016

Should be assigned reading in 6th Grade

This was my second-favorite book that I read in 6th Grade (and I read a LOT of them). This is one of the most inventive children's books of the time and c... Continue reading

What's the story?

Set in the year 2194, THE EAR, THE EYE AND THE ARM tells the story of Tendai and his siblings, the children of Zimbabwe's tough chief of security, who are bored of life on the family compound. They trick their father into letting them out for a day, but they're quickly kidnapped in the town marketplace. As they work to get home, they end up enslaved as scavengers in a dump city, accused of witchcraft in a traditional village, and captured by a masked gang with a deadly plan. Meanwhile, the children's mother hires detectives with extraordinary powers -- the Ear can hear out of huge ears, the Eye can see amazing details from his frog-like eyes, and the Arm can sense people's feelings -- who work together to bring them home.

Is it any good?

Nancy Farmer's Newbery Honor book is rich, and readers likely will be fascinated by the blend of traditional Zimbabwean culture and futuristic technology, such as robotic guard dogs and flying cars. There's plenty of adventure and some great visuals, such as when a shadow coming out of a tunnel turns out to be a group of well-choreographed gangsters. There are many unlikely heroes here: Tendai is an easy protagonist to sympathize with -- he's afraid he lacks his father's warrior personality and lacks the fire that his brother and sister both obviously possess. In the end, though, he learns something about what it really means to have courage and to use his own gifts to help others. 

Readers capable of handling the constant peril and even the threat of torture will find a story that provokes them to think about what it means to be brave and do the right thing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about award-winning books. The Ear, the Eye and the Arm won a Newbery Honor. Why do you think it was selected?

  • What do you think of the future world that author Nancy Farmer creates here? What seems possible to you? Does anything here seem far-fetched?

  • What do you think of the way the author mixes fact and fiction? How do you know what's true and what Farmer made up?

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