Mira Bartok tells the story of Arthur, a shy, fox-like foundling with only one ear and a desperate desire to belong, as he seeks his destiny.
Have you been unexpectedly burdened by a recently orphaned or unclaimed creature? Worry not! We have just the solution for you!
Welcome to the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, an institution run by evil Miss Carbunkle, a cunning villainess who believes her terrified young charges exist only to serve and suffer. Part animal and part human, the groundlings toil in classroom and factory, forbidden to enjoy anything regular children have, most particularly singing and music. For the Wonderling, an innocent-hearted, one-eared, fox-like eleven-year-old with only a number rather than a proper name — a 13 etched on a medallion around his neck — it is the only home he has ever known.
But unexpected courage leads him to acquire the loyalty of a young bird groundling named Trinket, who gives the Home’s loneliest inhabitant two incredible gifts: a real name —Arthur, like the good king in the old stories — and a best friend. Using Trinket’s ingenious invention, the pair escape over the wall and embark on an adventure that will take them out into the wider world and ultimately down the path of sweet Arthur’s true destiny.
The Wondering is a gorgeous hardback gift book for primary-school aged children. It’s about a young groundling — an animal hybrid named Arthur — who escapes the terrible orphanage Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures. Arthur wants to find out where he’s from and what happened to his family, and along with his best friend Trinket, the two venture far and wide to find the answers that they’re looking for.
“Arthur took a deep breath and looked up at the sky. ‘I wish — and I will say it out loud, Trinket, for you are my best friend in the whole wide world — I wish —‘ He took another breath. ‘I wish to know why I’m here and what I’m supposed to do in the world — what is my destiny? There. I said it.”
The first thing you notice about the book is its package. The cover design is gorgeous and the illustrations throughout the book are wonderful. And not only does the book look beautiful, it’s actually a wonderful story and one that I really enjoyed reading.
“The sun rose over the city as Arthur and the Rat made their way across the bridge. All along the railing were flocks of wood pigeons and crows, fighting over bits of dead fish. It was a sad, neglected bridge, with the same soot-blackened statue on either side — a creature with a woman’s face and the body and wings of a swan.”
Whilst reading this, I had many flashbacks to some of the children’s books I read as a kid. There is something about this book and the storytelling that reminds me of Peter Rabbit and The Wind in the Willows. I think Mira has created a truly marvellous and highly original world.
The Wonderling is full of rich description and imagery, and strong friendships. There are multiple key messages in the book, and I think the strongest is the importance of friendship and the stability of it. Trinket, Arthur and Quintus — another friend that Arthur meets along the way — have a wonderful relationship and their friendship is really heartwarming, particularly amidst all the sadness in their world.
Mira has created some fantastic hybrid animals in the story, as well as highly original world-building. There’s homes within hollow trees, flying bicycles and clockwork beetles. The villains are also pretty entertaining. In particular, Headmistress Carbunkle and Mr Sneezeweed.
“Arthur climbed up the rope ladder to a rickety platform and was hoisted to the top by a loud clanking pulley. His new ‘home’ was a small, damp, empty hole carved into the rock. It reeked of bird droppings, mould, sewage and pee.”
The Wonderling is full of warmth and soul, and I really enjoyed the book. I did think it could’ve been shorter, though. At 462 pages, it’s a hefty read and I do think Mira could’ve condensed the story a bit. Besides this, it’s a sweet tale for young kids and there are plenty of learnings in there for them as well as a really great story with wonderful characters.
This book is recommended for children aged 9-13.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Walker Books Australia