The Wonderling

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Wonderling Book Poster Image
Peril, appealing characters fill rich, imaginative fantasy.

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Kids say

age 10+
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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Lots about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, who serve as heroes and role models to some of the characters. Dickens fans will recognize the vibe and character types along the way -- think Oliver Twist.  Occasional phrases in Latin or French. The story includes lots of vocabulary-enhancing words; e.g., "aquiline," "excruciating," and "electromagnetic," as well as sentences such as "His demeanor was also that of a cruciferous vegetable: bitter and extremely gassy."

Positive Messages

Strong messages of courage, friendship, kindness, empathy, and teamwork, as well as discovering your own talents and making good use of them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Often worried, scared, and unsure, Arthur tries to do the right thing and to look at things from others' viewpoint. Friendship transforms his life in many good ways, and his bird pal Trinket is a big inspiration, from her brilliance as an inventor to her courage and determination to find her family. Some of the characters he meets, like the Fagin-ish Quintus the Rat, are involved in questionable activities like thieving, but their better selves often emerge.

Violence

A character tells how in the past, humans used to burn down the homes of "groundlings" (the human-animal hybrids) and kill many of them. The orphanage where Arthur spends his early youth is full of cruel adults, monstrous machines, bullying classmates, and creepy creatures, including rats who brag about eating their annoying rivals. In one slapstick-but-scary scene, the evil headmistress twists Arthur's ear till he almost passes out from the pain, and then throws him against the wall. Baby mice meet a terrible but undescribed fate at the hands of a villain.

Sex
Language

References to pee (which things smell like) and dung (which is around a lot, and also part of some business names). Also bums, meaning butts. A character calls another "moron."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One of the evil adults at the orphanage has a habit of getting drunk, which serves the kids well for plotting an escape. Assorted taverns and the like are part of the scenery.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's a lot to love in The Wonderling, author-illustrator Mira Bartok's first book for young readers and the first installment in a new fantasy series. There's darkness and scary stuff as young hero Arthur, a "groundling" (human-animal hybrid) with a fox's head, one ear, and a human-type body, makes his way through a richly imagined steampunk world from creepy orphanage to creepier prison in quest of his roots. But readers unfazed by the monsters and situations of, say, Harry Potter should have no problem. Friendship literally changes the young hero's life, and there are strong messages of kindness, empathy, family, teamwork, using your talents, and helping others. Laughs, suspense, and heartwarming moments keep the pages turning and set up the next installment.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byNoah L July 5, 2018

Amazing book with great story.

The Wonderling my Mira Bartok is a sensational story about resilience. Although I won't spoil it, It shows that you shold be happy with what you got- even... Continue reading

What's the story?

Stuck in the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures for as long as he can remember, young fox-headed, human-bodied Number Thirteen, aka THE WONDERLING, has a grim life and little hope, just like all the human-animal hybrid children imprisoned there and enslaved when they get old enough. But when, at age 11, he overcomes his terror long enough to save small, birdlike Trinket from cruel bullies, she dubs him Arthur, after the King, and opens up a world of possibilities. She's determined to escape and find her lost relatives in the city of Lumentown; he dreams of learning where he came from, but is he brave enough to join Trinket in her crazy scheme? And then what?

Is it any good?

Author-artist Mira Bartok's first work for young readers builds a rich, complicated world populated with creepy villains, Dickensian street urchins, and brave orphan heroes with unexpected talents. World-building takes a bit, but by the time Arthur (soon to be known as The Wonderling) and Trinket escape the horrible orphanage and begin their wild adventures, readers will be laughing, cheering them on, thrilling at their predicaments, and hoping they manage to stay out of trouble, or at least keep from being eaten.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about part human, part animal characters in The Wonderling. Why do you think that kind of character has been popular in stories for so many centuries? What other examples can you think of? Are the characters friendly or creepy?

  • What do you think the world would be like if there were no music, which one of the villains here is trying to accomplish?

  • If you suddenly found yourself all alone in a strange place, what would you do? How would you stay safe?

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