The Undrowned Child

The Undrowned Child

5.0 5
by michelle Lovric

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Teodora has always longed to visit Venice, and at last she has her chance. But strange and sinister things are afoot in the beautiful floating city. Teo is quickly subsumed into a secret world in which salty-tongued mermaids run subversive printing presses, ghosts good and bad patrol the streets, statues speak, rats read, and librarians fluidly turn into cats. And


Teodora has always longed to visit Venice, and at last she has her chance. But strange and sinister things are afoot in the beautiful floating city. Teo is quickly subsumed into a secret world in which salty-tongued mermaids run subversive printing presses, ghosts good and bad patrol the streets, statues speak, rats read, and librarians fluidly turn into cats. And where a book, The Key to the Secret City, leads Teo straight into the heart of the danger that threatens to destroy the city to which she feels she belongs. An ancient proverb seems to unite Teo with a Venetian boy, Renzo, and with the Traitor who has returned from the dark past to wreak revenge. . . . But who is the Undrowned Child destined to save Venice?

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Fantasy and historical fiction blend meticulously in this richly imaginative novel. Set in 1899, it's an intricately woven tale about rescuing Venice from impending demise. Teodora Gasperin, 11, miraculously survived a drowning accident that left her an orphan. She was adopted by two scientists who are attending a conference in Venice to find a way to save the city from sinking into the sea. While there, Teo is accidentally hit on the head by an extraordinary book, The Key to the Secret City for the Children of Venice, when it topples from a bookstore shelf, thus beginning her adventures. The book speaks to her, leading her on a quest to rescue the city from evil Bajamonte Tiepolo. After the accident, Teo is visible only to children, and she has extraordinary powers. As she tries to unlock the mystery to save the city, she deals with clever mermaids, some of whom add humor to the adventure. After a bumpy start, Renzo, a chauvinistic young Venetian, becomes her good friend and joins in her search. Lovric has included intriguing twists and turns on almost every page, with vampire eels and villains galore. Teo is a wonderful but unassuming heroine, and Venice itself is a thrilling character. The combination of imagination, thorough research, and evocative prose renders this an exceptional read that will not relinquish readers from its grasp. Happily, a sequel is already planned. This is Lovric's first contribution to literature for the young, and it is a gem.—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Publishers Weekly
In the year 1899, the evil spirit of Venice's ancient enemy, Bajamonte Tiepolo, whose bones are buried deep in the Grand Canal, rises to seek revenge on the city that destroyed him centuries earlier. The mayor offers rational explanations for swelling tides of hot water, encroaching sharks, ghostly bells, and eerie lights, while insisting that children who die from plague be buried secretly at night. A magical book takes 11-year old Teodora "between-the-Linings," making her visible only to children, ghosts, and animals. The book also introduces Teo to Renzo, a scholarly boy her age, and Lussa, mermaid queen and keeper of the "Seldom Seen Press," whose bawdy handbills warn Venetians of danger ("Have ye all been beaten with the stupid stick, like your mayor...?"). Racing against time, tide, and "baddened magic," Teo and Renzo recruit forces to battle the enemy. Energetic pacing, delightful fantasy, historical drama, lively humor, and a palpable love for Venice pervade the first YA novel from Lovric (who has written several adult novels set in that city). Addressing themes of honor, friendship, redemption, and belonging, it's an engrossing page-turner. Ages 10–up. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, School Library Journal, August 2011:
"Fantasy and historical fiction blend meticulously in this richly imaginative novel...The combination of imagination, thorough research, and evocative prose renders this an exceptional read that will not relinquish readers from its grasp. Happily, a sequel is already planned. This is Lovric’s first contribution to literature for the young, and it is a gem."

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Random House
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6 MB
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt


A Startling Afternoon

June 1, 1899

The blow came without warning and from nowhere. Just one second before, Teodora had been happily browsing in an old-fashioned Venetian bookshop, a dim, crumbling building that spilled out onto a square with a canal at one side. This was no ordinary bookshop. For a start, it was lit only by whispering gas-lamps and yellowy candle-stumps. A large brass mortar-and-pestle stood on the dusty counter instead of a till. There were no piles of famous poets, or detective stories or fat novels for ladies. In fact, there was just one battered copy each of all manner of interesting books like Mermaids I Have Known by Professor Marìn. And The Best Ways With Wayward Ghosts, by “One Who Consorts with Them.”

And the bookshop was empty of other customers apart from one fair-haired boy no older than Teo herself. He was elegantly dressed with a linen waistcoat, spotless boots and a cap at a rakish angle. He stood at a lectern, reading The Rise and Fall of the Venetian Empire, which was as big as a safe and had no pictures at all. Occasionally he looked up to give Teo a princely, disapproving stare.

For Teodora was not just gazing but sniffing at the tall shelves. Those shelves were like coral reefs, looming far above her head, full of deep, mysterious crevices. The shelves went so high up into the painted ceiling that Teo (being the kind of girl who liked to imagine things) could imagine fronds of seaweed waving up there. But down at her level--and Teo was embarrassingly small for eleven--somewhere between the books, and even over the tang of mold and the sweetish whiff of dust, she could definitely smell fish.

Indeed, she’d been smelling fish since she arrived in Venice three days before. She would not eat fish, because she believed it was cruel to kill them (Teo was a vegetarian), but this fish smell was so delicious, so fresh and alive, like perfumed salt--that she suddenly thought to herself: “This is what pearls would smell of, if they had a smell!”

The fair-haired boy harrumphed and looked down at his book. In Venice, he seemed to be implying, one reads books, one does not sniff at them.

Teo lived in Naples, hundreds of miles to the south. Her parents--that is, the people who’d adopted her--had brought her to Venice for the first time, and with the utmost reluctance, as it happened. Teo had been told that she was adopted as soon as she was old enough to understand it. But she’d never known any other family or any other home but Naples, and she’d always been perfectly happy with both. At least, until she was six years old. That was when she had found a book called My Venice at the library. Leafing through pages illustrated with oriental-looking palaces floating on jade-green water, Teo had felt a lurch just like hunger inside.

To get to Venice had taken Teo five years of skillful and dedicated nagging, with postcards of Venetian scenes left on the top of the piano, a Venetian glass ring for her mother’s birthday and other hints that were far from subtle. Her parents, who normally loved to think up treats for Teo, had always seemed oddly unwilling to bring her here, offering one unconvincing excuse after another.

There had been moments when Teo daydreamed of doing something outrageous, such as running away from home, and making her own way to Venice. She might even have done it, if only she’d had a friend to share the adventure with. But bookworms like Teodora are not generally known for their wide circle of adventurous friends. So they tend to have their adventures in their minds’ eyes only.

At last Fate intervened. (Or so Teo whispered to herself when her parents couldn’t hear. They were scientists, and prided themselves on being thoroughly modern and rational. In other words, they weren’t great believers in Fate.) During the last few months Venice had been engulfed in a wave of strange and sinister events. Teo’s ticket here came in the form of an emergency meeting of “the world’s greatest scientists,” who had been summoned to save the threatened city. An invitation to her parents had fluttered into the letterbox.

To think they had still tried to keep Teo at home! At first, they had insisted that she should not miss any school. Although it was nearly summer, it was still term-time, and the examinations were looming. But her teacher had given permission instantly, saying in front of everyone, “Teodora’s excused the exams. She’s going to write me a lovely story about Venice instead.” No one likes a teacher’s pet: naturally the other children had glared. Teo was mortified.

Then her parents declared that the situation in Venice was so very dangerous at the moment. As if that would keep her away!

“No one has actually died yet,” she had told them.

They’d had to admit that was true.

So finally she was here, and the real Venice, despite or perhaps precisely because of its tragic situation, seemed at least twice as precious as she’d imagined.

Almost more than anything else she had seen, Teo loved this old Venetian bookshop. She liked the stone mermaids carved above the doorway, the reflections of water playing on the walls. She liked the old bookseller too, with his creased-up face, velvet breeches and waistcoat, and his scent of talcum powder and candle-grease. He sometimes peered at her with a curious expression, as if he knew her from somewhere but could not quite place her. He never told her not to touch. And even warned her to keep a grip on Smooth as a Weasel and Twice as Slippery by Arnon Rodent.

“It has a tendency to fly out of people’s hands,” he mentioned kindly.

She looked at him closely--or rather, just above his head as he spoke. For Teo had a very unusual gift. When people spoke, she saw their words actually written in the air above them. Also the manner of their speaking: some with the curt efficiency of typewriting machines, some like laborious handwriting, others with flourishes and heavy underlinings. The old bookseller spoke like a scroll of parchment unrolling, each word beautifully distinct and old-fashioned.

Teo didn’t really know what she was looking for on those bookshelves, but she had the strongest feeling that there was something marvelous here, if she could only find it.


From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

MICHELLE LOVRIC has written three novels for adults and is active in the literary world, running writing workshops and writing reviews and travel features. The author divides her time between Venice and London. This is her first book for young people.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Undrowned Child 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
book-lover99 More than 1 year ago
This book made it to the top of my favorites list...I haven't read a book like this in awhile. I recommend it to everyone!! It was brilliant and so well written that it was just so perfect. It had all the right elements and was just extraordinary!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great! If you liked this one the next book in the series is called "THE MOURNING EMPORIUM" and becomes available at Barnes & Noble April 14, 2012!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So creepy!!!!! I love it!!!!
Bookmomnyc More than 1 year ago
The Undrowned Child's most important "character" is its setting: Venice, Italy. The city and its history, legends and momuments are a moody and mysterious stage for this Victorian era fantasy story. Yet Venice is facing some of the same problems that still confront it today: too many tourists and a disprespect for the delicate balance of lagoons, land and people. The story can be a complicated and scary, but it is a great read for kids and adults. The mermaids and their colorful pirate-like speech are funny and lovable. Teo, a cross between Harry Potter (orphaned, adopted, magical) and Hermione ( bookish, curious) is a wonderful and brave heroine who will appeal to both male and female readers. One of the fun extras in the book is an appendix which clarifies the real aspects of Venizian history and geography which he author has woven into the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a great book... history, comedy, suspense.... its got everything!!!