I would not really describe myself as an adventurous reader. While I am open to reading quite a wide array of genre and titles and authors, I usually pause awhile if I encounter an unfamiliar author whom I have not heard/read about or has not been recommended to me by fellow book lovers. However, when I discovered Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow in our community library, I knew that it was the perfect book that would marry our circus/carnivale and paranormal theme for January/February (with a bit of spill-over this March).
Oddball Outcasts and a Town Called Widowsbury. I find that I am a great fan of books with strange and smart children as the protagonists. A few that I can name off the top of my head would be the Baudelaire siblings, the Mysterious Benedict Society kids and the unlikely heroes in Pseudonymous Bosch’s Secret Series.
My list now officially includes the Skary Childrin from Madame Gertrude’s School for Girls: Adelaide Foss with the twitchy ears and braids (said to be a werewolf which I find surprising since she strikes me more as a little vampire), Maggie Borland (with the brown wild wavy hair and the ignominious strength – now THIS girl strikes me as the werewolf) and young Beatrice Alfred, accelerated to the Nines class despite the fact that she’s only seven, yet strangely enough she has horrendous spelling skills (which explains the title of this book). And not to forget, the ever-helpful and friendly Steffen Weller, son of the cook at the neighboring Rudyard School for Boys with his peanut butter sandwiches, misshapen wire glasses and patched wool coat (several sizes too large) and his ubiquitous bulging knapsack.
The kids each have their own special talents: Adelaide with the [pointy and] sharp sharp ears, Maggie with her scary strength, Beatrice who is the sweetest kindest wide-eyed little girl who sees ghosts and talks to dead animals [and keeps them as pets too!], and kind-hearted, well meaning Steffen with the highly resourceful skills and a knapsack that contains assorted knick-knacks that can get you out of any scrape. The kids would need to put together each of their special abilities to save a town that loathes them:
They say it was a storm that ruined Widowsbury. Some say it wasn’t a storm at all but evil’s kettle boiling over. And when it ripped through the town for twelve straight days, it tore open a gate through which escaped all sorts of foul, rotten things. There were such things as vampires. There were such things as ghosts. There were absolutely such things as mad scientists who reanimated the dead. The once-perfect little haven became a beacon for everything bad in the world. Nothing and nobody unfamiliar would ever be trusted again for one could never be sure what secrets waited under the surface. (p. 2)
The Sinister Candy Man and the Carousel of Sorrow. Twelve years after the storm, to the day, a stranger came to town bearing… candies. The name of this strange man is Lyle Zoethout “Purveyor of sweets, treats, and delicious delights!” (p. 9). It appears though that this sweet-smiling and sweets-bearing Lyle has a score to settle in this town – and he has a sinister and insidious plan involving a carousel of sorrow with a giant belly that would make certain that ‘Lyle’ gets his just desserts.
Getting Even or Turning into What You Hate the Most. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The wit is biting and fresh, the characters well-developed, and the illustrations by the extremely talented Katy Towell are glorious in their anime-gothic-vibe. At the very heart of the book, one could glimpse the depths of loneliness of four outcasts (let’s make that five and include pimply-faced, broken-hearted 15 year old Nathan Wick) and the cruelty of people who are afraid of anything strange, odd, different.
The book also presents a moral dilemma, a curious question if you may – if you had a yawning, frightful Carousel of Sorrow who could eat up all the people who are mean to you and who bully you to death – would you (a) feed them to your Carousel of Pain (b) save their horrible hides thus saving the world (c) do nothing, it’s not your problem anyway. Would you get even (and subsequently turn into that which you hate the most) or would you do the ‘right’ thing despite its going unrewarded and unappreciated? Read the book to get to know these lovely kids’ refreshing honesty and wisdom.
Katy Towell, by most accounts, was an exemplary student and well-behaved child back in Kansas. Her parents do not know where they went wrong. Today, Ms. Towell is a graphic designer, writer, and illustrator in Los Angeles, with dreams of one day being the scary old lady in the house about which all the neighborhood children tell ghost stories. She is the writer, illustrator, and sometimes animator of the website Childrin R Skary. In her spare time, Ms. Towell collects antiques, strange teas, and carnivorous houseplants, and she plays a little tune on her violin now and again.
Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow by Katy Towell. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2011. Book borrowed from the community library.