A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
- Author: Nancy Farmer
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Puffin
- Publication date: November 29, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 311
- Available on: Paperback, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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