Hollow Earth

Hollow Earth

4.7 14
by John Barrowman, Carole E. Barrowman

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In this fresh and innovative middle grade fantasy, imagination matters most in a world where art can keep monsters trapped—or set them free.

Lots of twins have a special connection, but twelve-year-old Matt and Emily Calder can do way more than finish each other’s sentences. Together, they are able to bring art to life and enter paintings at


In this fresh and innovative middle grade fantasy, imagination matters most in a world where art can keep monsters trapped—or set them free.

Lots of twins have a special connection, but twelve-year-old Matt and Emily Calder can do way more than finish each other’s sentences. Together, they are able to bring art to life and enter paintings at will. Their extraordinary abilities are highly sought after, particularly by a secret group who want to access the terrors called Hollow Earth. All the demons, devils, and evil creatures ever imagined are trapped for eternity in the world of Hollow Earth—trapped unless special powers release them.

The twins flee from London to a remote island off the west coast of Scotland in hopes of escaping their pursuers and gaining the protection of their grandfather, who has powers of his own. But the villains will stop at nothing to find Hollow Earth and harness the powers within. With so much at stake, nowhere is safe—and survival might be a fantasy.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 5–10—Em and Matt Calder, 12, inherited the attributes of their Guardian father, Malcolm, and their Animare mother, Sandie. This unprecedented combination puts them in danger from those who want to extinguish their powers and those who want to exploit them for evil ends. When the twins begin to reveal their Animare ability to turn their artistic imaginings into real-world manifestations, they flee with Sandie to an island off the Scottish coast. There their paternal grandfather, Renard, a powerful Guardian, can offer some protection and explanations of the Animare and Guardian attributes and responsibilities. However, no one explains what happened to Malcolm or what is in the satchel Sandie keeps with her. After she disappears and Renard is severely injured, the siblings use their powers to animate their way out of dangerous encounters. Aided by a deaf teenager with lip-reading ability and technological know-how, they thwart those who want to use the twins to open the door to Hollow Earth, a place where all evil creatures are trapped for eternity. A parallel story set in the Middle Ages reveals how an Animare monk illuminating manuscripts saved the island's inhabitants from Viking invaders. Both past and present victories over dark forces rely on the intervention of a peryton, a fantastical creature. At the conclusion, readers can pause for breath from the plot's heart-pounding pace. Added to the elements of history and myth are references to paintings by artists such as Van Gogh and descriptions of the island. These topics should supply readers with plenty to explore while they wait eagerly for the next installment.—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankato
Publishers Weekly
In the first novel from actor John Barrowman (best known for his lead role in Torchwood) and his sister, readers meet 12-year-old Matt and Em Calder, telepathic twins who can make the pictures they draw come magically alive. For centuries, “Animares” like the twins (among them Vincent van Gogh) have been governed by the Council of Guardians, which controls and guides their abilities, “Because an Animare may be a danger to others or themselves.” Matt and Em, however, are the result of a previously unheard of marriage between an Animare and a Guardian, and the limits of their powers are unknown. The twins’ art magic is ingeniously portrayed, and the Scottish setting is nicely handled as a corrupt member of the Council and the evil secret society known as Hollow Earth pursue the children. The novel’s action sequences, which repeatedly require characters to whip out sketchbooks and pencils at dire moments, can be cumbersome, though, and while the twins are entertaining protagonists, other characters come across as cartoonish. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
What if every picture you drew had the potential to come alive and you could become part of the picture? That is the secret talent of the pre-teen Calder twins, Em and Matt. The siblings are the products of a forbidden marriage. Their mother, Sandie, is an animare, someone who can bring to life the drawings she creates. Their absent father is a Guardian, charged with guiding and protecting the animare. When it becomes apparent that the twins are especially gifted at animating their art and also have amazing telepathic powers, the Council of Guardians makes a decision to bind the twins, that is, trap them in a painting where their powers would be rendered useless. In a frantic escape, Sandie runs away with the children to their paternal grandfather's abbey in Scotland. Scotland proves not to be a safe haven as the children's powers continue to get them in trouble and Em, clearly the more talented of the two, becomes a firestarter. The third in their trio is Zach, a deaf future Guardian who also communicates with the twins telepathically. There is a lot going on in this book, including brief and perhaps unnecessary trips to the Middle Ages via paintings to provide a backstory to the twins' adventures. On the plus side, the action is non-stop and the fantasy is original. Em's "night terrors," dreams that come frighteningly to life, may cause a few nightmares of their own but they are just another tantalizing magical element of the book. As is usual, this is the first in a series and there is enough expectation and build-up generated to have young readers anxiously awaiting the next installment. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
Kirkus Reviews
J.K. Rowling meets Blue Balliett in this series opener in which imagination comes to life--literally. When 12-year-old twins Matt and Em Calder "draw" themselves into a Georges Seurat painting in London's National Gallery, their single mother knows it's time for them to learn the truth about their magical heritage. Secretly fleeing to their grandfather's estate on a remote Scottish island, the twins--who communicate with each other telepathically--discover that their mother is an Animare, who can change reality through drawing, and their father, who abandoned the family years ago, was a Guardian meant to protect their mother. Matt and Em, the products of this forbidden relationship, possess highly developed powers and worry the Council of Guardians. Adventure ensues when the twins' mother disappears and they must use art to battle ruthless Council Guardians and Animare who want to open Hollow Earth, a mythical space in Earth where monsters and demons remain trapped. Helping them along the way is Zach, a deaf Guardian in training, although Matt and Em learn sign language with credulity-straining speed, and it's unclear how a deaf teen would understand telepathic "speech." It's a frustratingly confusing narrative, though speculations about famous artists and interspersed chapters about a teen Animare from the Middle Ages do add interesting connections. Hopefully the sequel will draw a more coherent storyline. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Product Details

Publication date:
Hollow Earth , #1
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Sales rank:
880L (what's this?)
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt





The book the old monk was illuminating began with these words:

THIS Book is about the nature of beasts. Gaze upon these pages at your peril,

The old monk yawned, his chin dropped to his chest, and his eyes fluttered shut. The quill dropped from his fingers, leaving a trail of ink like tiny teardrops across the folio. He was working on one of the book’s later pages, a miniature of a majestic griffin with talons clutching an imposing capital G. As the old monk nodded off, the griffin leaped from its place at the corner of the page and darted across the parchment. In its haste to flee, the beast brushed its coarse wings across the old monk’s fingers.

The monk’s eyes snapped open. In an instant, he thumped his gnarled fist onto the griffin’s slashing tail, pinning the beast to the page. He glared at it. The griffin snorted angrily and scratched its talons deep into the thin vellum of the page. The monk shook off his exhaustion and focused his mind, and in a rush of color and light the griffin was once again gripping the G at the top of the page.

Glancing behind him, the old monk spotted the bare feet of his young apprentice poking out from under the wooden frame that held the drying skins to make parchment.

Something will have to be done, the monk thought.

When he was sure the image was settled on the page, the old monk crouched to retrieve his quill. He was angry with himself. He would have to be punished for this terrible lapse in concentration and go without his evening meal. He patted his soft, round belly. He’d survive the loss.

But the boy. What to do about the boy now, given what he’d witnessed? That loss would hurt. The old monk did not relish having to train another apprentice. He had neither the strength nor the inclination for such a task. Not only that, but this boy had already demonstrated a great deal of skill as a parchment maker, and was a natural at knowing how long to soak the skins in lime and how to carefully clean and scrape them. And, at such a young age, he was already an elegant calligrapher and a brilliant alchemist with inks. Between the two of them these past months, they’d almost completed the final pages for The Book of Beasts. The boy and his talents would be sorely missed.

The boy sensed that the old monk was debating his future. He could hear the weight of the monk’s ideas in his head, like a drumming deep inside his mind. He associated the sound with the monk because at its loudest, when the monk was concentrating hardest, the drumming was deep and full and round, much like the monk himself.

The boy’s mother was the only other person the boy could sense in his head: a feeling not unwanted, although often peculiar. Not because he missed her. Far from it. His mother and his brothers and sisters still lived in the village outside the monastery gates. But his mother’s echo in his head had helped him escape her wrath, warranted or not, many times. Quickly the boy lifted his pestle and mortar and finished crushing the iron salts and acorns for his next batch of ink.

The old monk straightened himself against his desk. What should he do? What if he were to fall asleep again while illuminating, only the next time his dozing was too sound? He didn’t dare think about the consequences of such a terrible slip. Only once before had he let such a thing happen, with tragic results. He’d been a young man and had not had the benefit of his training yet. In his nightmares, he could still hear the apprentice’s screams. Oh, and there had been so much blood.

No, something would definitely have to be done about the boy.

He stared at his apprentice across the workroom now in much the same manner as he had stared down the griffin.

But the boy was courageous and smart. He knew this was an important moment in his short life. He loved everything about the monastery and didn’t want to leave. He was genuinely fond of the old monk, with whom he’d worked since his father had given him to the service of the monks in return for grazing rights on a prime piece of church land outside the village.

The boy knew how much such a trade was worth to his family. It was worth everything to him, too. This was a time when men, women, and children believed in miracles and magic with equal faith. It was a time when kings and queens fought for their crowns with armadas and armies whose allegiance they bought with land and crops and even bigger armies. And it was a time when hope and happiness had everything to do with where you were born and who was protecting you.

Yes, indeed, the boy knew better than anything else that he had to stay with the old monk and remain part of this ancient holy order. So he did the only thing he knew how to do in the circumstances. He stood up and stared directly back at the old monk without flinching and with an equal measure of concentration.

The monk glared.

The boy’s heart was pounding in his chest. The drumming in his skull was so loud, it felt as if a vise was tightening across his ears. He was sure his head was going to burst. His nose started to bleed, dripping into the mortar he was gripping in his hands. Behind the monk, the boy could see the griffin’s tail thumping against the page. But still he held his gaze.

After what seemed—to the boy, anyway—to be forever, the vise around his skull loosened, the pulsing of the old monk’s thoughts stopped, and the boy thought he heard a sigh inside his head. The monk’s shoulders drooped, and he turned away. The boy let out his breath and wiped his sleeve across his nose.

Ah, thought the monk, I have neither the strength nor the inclination to challenge this boy’s fortitude. Something else will have to be done to ensure that he honors the monastery’s secrets.

He turned away, his focus back on the beast.

With great relief, the boy returned his attention to the pot and his mixtures. When he’d finished creating the ink, he filled the monk’s inkwell and stored the rest for another day. Then he turned to the goatskin stretched across the rack. Gently the boy ran the tips of his fingers across the surface, making sure the skin was drying smooth and thin enough to absorb the inks. He looked again at the old monk, his body draped across his tall desk, his quill dipping in and out of the inkwell. The monk’s concentration was so intense, the boy knew nothing would shift him until the final touches had been put to the page.

Soon the light was fading from the room, and the old monk could feel his mind drifting again. After cleaning the tip of his quill, he set it inside his leather pouch along with his other tools. Then he sealed the inkwell with a wax plug before covering the page he was illustrating with two thin layers of vellum. Lifting the pages, he set them on a rack inside the cabinet next to his desk, weighing down the corners with polished stones. The pages he’d been working on for the past month were similarly laid out across the cabinet’s broad shelves. Tomorrow, he’d begin the process of illuminating the final beast, the most terrifying of them all—the grendel.

The monk locked the cabinet, dropping the key into the pocket of his robes. Before closing the shutters, he peered out through the wide slits in the thick stone walls, stunned for a moment by the sight of an owl and one of its young lifting off from a nearby tree. A sign, the old monk thought. An omen, to be sure. Of good, he trusted.

“Time for prayers, and then perhaps you and I should discuss the matter lingering before us.”

“Yes, master.”

The boy echoed his master’s ritual, cleaning his tools, wrapping them in their soft leather pouches, and setting them on his workbench.

The old monk dampened the peat in the hearth and pulled on his fur cloak. Grabbing his cap and scarf from the floor, the boy tied his leather soles onto his feet and followed his master to the heavy oak door.

“Solon, you would do well to forget what you believe you saw earlier. It was only a trick of your youthful imagination.”

The boy stepped in front of the old monk and held the door for him.

“Beg pardon, master, but weren’t it really a trick of yours?”

Meet the Author

John Barrowman has appeared onstage, including on London’s West End, and on-screen. He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who and Torchwood, as well as appearances on Desperate Housewives, and Scandal. He is currently a series regular on Arrow.
Carole E. Barrowman is a journalist and a professor of English in Wisconsin.

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Hollow Earth 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My mom got this book at the singing. I read it as soon as she got it because im a fan of jon and carol is one my sisters professors. My mom had to literaly take the book from my hands to get me to stop reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was beyond great! I bought the book on his book-signing tour, and John and Carol were such nice people.The ideas he and his sister came up with while driving were really great. I definately reccomend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book so far and i totally reccomend it!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastically creative.
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AerynKelly13 More than 1 year ago
yes, I bought it because of who John Barrowman is. But I did enjoy the book. It was an interesting story, but perhaps too much of a mystery for my tastes. It was a bit slow, with a lot of "I wonder what this is", "We haven't found this out yet" throughout. And the ending doesn't solve all the mysteries either. I would read a sequel, but I don't think I'd go back and read this one again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very creative, left just enough tied up to be a satisfactory stand alone book and just enough open to allow for sequels. Great first effort by this brother-sister writing team!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have not read this book but it looks good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago