In her first book for children, Bartók (The Memory Palace) takes readers to a world in which part-human, part-animal groundlings are largely treated with disdain. The story follows a one-eared fox groundling known simply as Number Thirteen, who has spent all of his remembered life at Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, where days are spent toiling silently in a classroom and factory. After Thirteen saves Trinket, a daring bird groundling, from bullies, the two hatch a plan to escape the home. Renamed Arthur by Trinket, the fox groundling seeks to uncover his hazy past but finds his trust and innocence tested in dark and unfriendly places. Bartók doesn’t delve into the origins of groundlings but uses them successfully as a stand-in for other disenfranchised groups, with the groundlings subjected to derision and menial tasks by most of the upper classes. Music plays an important role in the story, both as a means of connection and a force for good. Though somewhat dense and slow moving at times, Bartók gives readers a richly imagined fantasy landscape to lose themselves in. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 10–14. (Sept.)
Gr 3–6—Thirteen, a fox groundling (creatures that are half animal, half human), has spent most of his life in "the Home," a horrid orphanage/workhouse run by the evil Mrs. Carbunkle. When he saves a bird groundling named Trinket, the two hatch an escape plan, and Trinket renames him Arthur, in honor of the brave medieval king. Once Arthur and Trinket are free from Mrs. Carbunkle, they set off on an adventure that will test Arthur's destiny as a Wonderling, including his very unusual abilities to understand and speak to animals and to unknowingly sing a haunting song each night as he sleeps. He will have to head ear-first into danger and return to The Home to find out what that destiny holds. Written with clear and detailed descriptions, this novel drops readers into a strange, magical, mythical, and mechanical world. Fantasy fans will be swept along by the mystery and adventure, guessing until the end how the plot and characters connect. Bearing some similarities to Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" with shades of Erin Hunter's "Warriors" series, Bartók's title will appeal to readers who appreciate anthropomorphized animal characters, high-stakes adventure, and Dickensian settings. VERDICT A stellar new contribution to fantasy that should find a place in every middle grade collection.—Clare A. Dombrowski, Amesbury Public Library, MA
A young groundling, or animal hybrid, escapes a horrible orphanage to discover his past. The shy, foxlike groundling known as No. 13 has only the faintest memory of a song and the far-off sounds he can hear with his single furry ear to keep him wondering why he exists. He's imprisoned along with dozens of other unwanted groundlings in a former monastery-turned-grim workhouse where food and comfort are scarce. The seemingly human headmistress has dark secrets, and her assistants are cruel to the orphans. When a clever and resourceful new friend springs Arthur, as she calls No. 13, and herself from the institution, the two embark on an epic journey that will eventually bring them back to free the other orphans. Bartók's language is full of rich description and effulgent inventories of food and places. Her world includes Christmas and Beethoven, along with homes in hollow trees, clockwork beetles, police patrols on flying bicycles, and allusions to ancient magic, both good and evil. Arthur, sweetly innocent throughout his journey, must make his way in Lumentown, where groundlings are at best second-class citizens and High Hats control everything. Arthur's harrowing encounters with cruelty, hunger, and filth are interspersed with gentle humor and kindness. Though the origins of the groundlings are never explored (perhaps saved for the planned sequel), the worldbuilding otherwise has an impressive level of conviction and credibility. Bartók's lovely, detailed illustrations and drawings throughout support the sense of enchantment in this imaginative adventure. Captivating and with great potential as a read-aloud. (Fiction. 9-13)
Momentum builds toward a thrilling crescendo and, rarest of all, a wholly satisfying ending that still whets the appetite for a sequel.
—The New York Times Book Review
Bartók's language is full of rich description and effulgent inventories of food and places...Bartók's lovely, detailed illustrations and drawings throughout support the sense of enchantment in this imaginative adventure. Captivating and with great potential as a read-aloud.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Written with clear and detailed descriptions, this novel drops readers into a strange, magical, mythical, and mechanical world...Bearing some similarities to Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” with shades of Erin Hunter’s “Warriors” series, Bartók’s title will appeal to readers who appreciate anthropomorphized animal characters, high-stakes adventure, and Dickensian settings. A stellar new contribution to fantasy that should find a place in every middle grade collection.
—School Library Journal (starred review)
Arthur’s Dickensian steampunk world is richly imagined and gorgeously described...Arthur’s story of friendship, hope, and heroics will delight adventure seekers, and the open-ended conclusion and tantalizing hints of larger doings afoot will bring readers eagerly back for the promised sequel. Younger readers not yet ready to tackle a long novel on their own will still be enthralled by the story in shared reading or readaloud.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)
Bartók's prose is as alluring as the story she weaves. Every song, every food, every object adds texture to the world, layering the known, the unknown and the magical...A gentle, modern-day nod to the children's books of old, The Wonderling is a sweet, uplifting adventure.
—Shelf Awareness Pro
Bartók doesn’t delve into the origins of groundlings but uses them successfully as a stand-in for other disenfranchised groups, with the groundlings subjected to derision and menial tasks by most of the upper classes. Music plays an important role in the story, both as a means of connection and a force for good...Bartók gives readers a richly imagined fantasy landscape to lose themselves in.
This beguiling fiction debut from Bartók (The Memory Palace, 2011) is just the ticket for readers who revel in quest stories, or those with a soft spot for animal fantasies. Bartók carefully constructs her world, gracing it with a classed society, music, and a touch of steampunk.
A dreamy Dickensian tale of a fox-like, one-eared “groundling”[…] the book’s imagined worlds, from hovels to mansions, are imbued with the wonder of the title and its innocent hero, no match for the Faginesque creatures he encounters, should resonate especially with gentle, guileless readers.
Bartok has delivered what I hope will become a treasured classic in children's literature. THE WONDERLING is magical, morally-sound and a true treat for readers of all ages...Bartok writes with a lyrical, cadenced voice and her ability to craft a new, magical world knows no bounds.
This novel joins riotous exploits with heartfelt wisdom...the most notable element of this story is the pervading message of hope—that no matter how dark the world may seem, there is always light to be found, whether it be in friendship, in the simple sounds of nature or in the countless other small wonders around us.
Bartók demonstrates her own inventiveness: one type of device for instance is a combination of passenger pigeon, player piano, and the internet. She also creates memorable scenes.
—The Horn Book
Small sepia-colored illustrations throughout add elegance to this dramatic adventure for children ages 8-13.
—The Wall Street Journal
The richly developed characters and setting immediately enthrall young readers, who might relish this stylishly written story as both a solo and a read-aloud experience.
...a good story that will not be put down until the end is reached.
—School Library Connection Online
A brilliant, sweeping work of imagination, this grand adventure is filled with marvelously rich characters and unpredictable twists and turns, making this novel one that won't let you down for one second.
—Reading Eagle (from Kendal Rautzhan's "Books to Borrow")
This richly imagined, enthralling fantasy with its evocative names and lovely writing, is the debut children's novel from Mira Bartok, a writer and artist who who the 2011 National Book Award for her memoir "Memory Palace."
Middle graders will enjoy this high-adventure Victorian steampunk animal fantasy with music, clever prose, and quaint illustrations, done in ink, graphite, and gouache.