The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels is first-time novelist Beth Lincoln's quirky, vocabulary-intensive, comically gothic tale of tweens coping with a family gathering, with lively illustrations by Claire Powell. Traditionally, the Swift clan returns to The House to seek the treasure allegedly left by murderous Great-Uncle Vile before he killed most of his family and vanished many years ago. But, as you would expect of a family where newborn infants are given a word picked from a dictionary as their name, leading to a lot of characters called things like Atrocious, Pique, Gumshoe and Pamplemousse, things go off the rails pretty quickly -- and with lots of big words, phrases in several languages, and discussion of whether your name defines you. Two characters meet violent (and ridiculous) deaths, and there's lots of peril between the booby-trapped mansion, the numerous weapons, and the family members who are just plain up to no good. One adult character explains how when she was born everyone thought she was a boy and she had to work to make them understand. A tween character declines to be identified as a boy or a girl. Sisters Felicity (fashionable and fluent in French), Phenomena (a brilliant scientist who's lost her sense of smell in an experiment), and Shenanigan (usually up to something), squabble and bicker amid all this, but their seafaring uncle reminds them that they're a crew and should act like it. And all their talents come in handy in finding a murderer.
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What's the Story?
As families go, THE SWIFTS are unusual. By tradition, at birth each child gets a name chosen (at random? by fate?) from a very big dictionary, so sibs Felicity, Phenomena, and Shenanigan have relatives with such names as Maelstrom, Inheritance, and Schadenfreude (her parents were traveling in Germany at the time of her birth and had to make do with a German dictionary). Things haven't been right since the long-ago day when ancestor Vile murdered most of his family and vanished -- but not before hiding his ill-gotten wealth, now the object of intense searches every time the Swift clan reunites at The House. The reunion begins with the traditional rehearsal for the funeral of (perfectly healthy) Aunt Schadenfreude, the family Matriarch, but things soon go badly awry, as an attempt on her life is quickly followed by two violent deaths. As the sibs and their newfound cousin Erf discover, all their relatives have something to hide, none of them are what they seem to be, and it's hard to know whom to trust, as the danger is far from over.
Is It Any Good?
Author Beth Lincoln's lively tale finds its tween heroes dealing with murder, mayhem, and missing treasure at a creepy family reunion. If you love big, obscure words ("tintinnabula," "schadenfreude," "pamplemousse"), French and German phrases, and silly wordplay, The Swifts: A Dictionary of Scoundrels is the book for you. But there are also plot twists galore, and characters coping with relatable issues from sibling bickering to just exactly who gets to define who you are, anyway. As one character says,"There will always be people who think they know you better than you know yourself. But I quickly learned that they don't matter; the people who love you are the people who listen."
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the family reunion in The Swifts. Why so many stories find them such a perfect setting for murder and mayhem? Or at least really bad fights. Do you prefer family reunion stories that are sweet and upbeat, or do you like seeing what kind of trouble these gatherings can lead to?
Do you like your name? Do you think you'd be a different person if your parents had decided to call you something different?
Does your family have traditions that you really like? What are they and how are they important in your life?
- Author: Beth Lincoln
- Illustrator: Claire Powell
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Humility, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: February 7, 2023
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 352
- Available on: Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 27, 2023
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