2017 seems to be the year for gorgeous children’s fiction and Mira Bartok’s The Wonderling is no exception. The Wonderling is simply one of the sweetest children’s books I have come across. Set in a Victorian-esque world where the boundaries between species have become less distinguishable, a new group of people called groundlings – a group of people with the traits of humans and animals, or indeed various animals – are treated as second class citizens. In this world, young abandoned groundlings are sent to Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, only to be treated as little more than poorhouse slaves.
It is here that we meet a young fox groundling, at first without a name, only a number – Number Thirteen. However, in amongst all the misery of his life at Miss Carbunkle’s, Number Thirteen finds a friend, Trinket, a small kiwi bird-like groundling who not only gives him a name – Arthur – but also a sense of hope and self-worth. The two escape Miss Carbunkle’s, but it is here that their story really begins. With magic, song and friendship, Arthur finds himself caught up in a much bigger plot to remove music from the world, and must try to stop it before it is too late.
The Wonderling has many beautiful lessons to teach children about the power of music and song, the value of self-worth and personal discovery, and how our lives are transformed by the friendships we make. One of the sweetest moments in this book is when Arthur and Trinket first become friends and Trinket declares almost instantly that not only does Arthur deserve a name, but one with great power and history behind it. Her insistence that Arthur is worth more than he ever thought himself to be is one of the most consistent themes of the book, forcing the reader to see the negative effect of bullies come up against the power of friendship and self worth. The defeat of the bullies by Arthur’s growing friendships and self-worth is an important message for children to see. Whilst the book is fantastic in nature, it’s messages of hope and friendship are beautiful and necessary for children to see in an increasingly tough world.
Each time I recommend this book to someone, I describe it as “if Charles Dickens and Tim Burton came together to write a steampunk Wind in the Willows”. There is something utterly enchanting about the sweetness of this novel, and the loveliness of Arthur’s kindness in the face of bullies and ongoing adversity in a society that views him as less than a person. Again, there is a message here for children about difference, as ultimately the many differences of the groundlings who band together to help Arthur are the thing that saves music from those who wish to destroy it.
The beautiful illustrations drawn by the book’s author Mira Bartok that are sprinkled amongst the pages, add even more beauty to the book. I have popped some of these gorgeous sepia sketches throughout this review to just give you a snippet of how lovely this story is. It is the kind of children’s book that has all the makings of a classic children’s book and I sincerely hope that every child who reads this book falls in love with sweet Arthur, Trinket, Peevil and the rest of the groundlings and their friends as much as I have.
Mira Bartok’s The Wonderling is available in all good bookstores now. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores.
Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of The Wonderling. Please note, whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.
© Hayley New 2017