The Kneebone Boy

by Jennifer


This book promised to be delightfully quirky, and it is! I had not ever read anything by Ellen Potter, but she was definitely on my radar after reading a few reviews of some of her earlier works.

The Kneebone Boy is the story of the Hardscrabble children. Otto, Lucia, and Max range in age from 13 to 10. Their mother “went missing” years ago, and their father travels frequently for his work as a royal portrait artist. When their father goes out of town on this particular trip, they are sent to London to visit their cousin, and that’s where the adventure begins.

There are so many things to like about this book, and so many things that will appeal to middle grade readers:

  1. The cover — It’s compelling, but even more than that, it’s 100% accurate! This is not something to be taken for granted. I can imagine children flipping back and forth from the descriptions in the book to look at the cover the whole time they are reading it (Why can I imagine that? Well let’s just say that I did my fair share of flipping!).
  2. The tone — The story is told from the POV of one of the Hardscrabble children: “I can’t tell you which Hardscrabble I am, because I’ve sworn on pain of torture not to. They said it’s because the story belongs to all three of us, and I suppose they’re right, but it seems unfair since I’m doing all the work. No one can stop you from guessing, though.” (ARC page 2). I don’t think it’s a mystery. Any semi-observant reader knows by the end who the narrator is.

    The story is told in this chatty style throughout, with all sorts of personal asides. It would make a great read-aloud, but it I would think that this type of storytelling would be easier for a reluctant reader to follow as well.

  3. The adventure — It’s not everyday that three children end up on their own in a city, adopting a strange pet along the way, living in a castle folly, meeting estranged relatives. . . . This is an adventure story, but a realistic one.
  4. The delightfully Dickensian chapter titles — “In which the Hardscrabbles worry about the title of this book and other things,” “In which there are no vampires or ghosts, but you’ll like this chapter anyway,” “In which something awful happens, but I can’t say what it is.” Don’t overlook the titles when you are reading.

When I truly truly love a book (as I do this one), not only does it get preserved forever on our 5 Stars Read page (as this one will), but I find myself a bit speechless about it. I think it’s in part because I like to be vague so that the reader can discover the joy for themselves. But it’s also because happy feelings in my heart don’t translate to the page well. So be it.

There are one or two uses of a mild swear word, but it is pretty much free of objectionable content for kids in 3rd or 4th grade and up. I think it’s a perfect fit for an older middle-grade reader, which I appreciate as the parent of an older middle grade/young YA reader. I love that a clever, thoughtful, funny, adventurous book like this is available to tempt children to be children a while longer, instead of teen wannabes.

Jennifer Donovan is not a teen wannabe. She blogs at Snapshot about her soon-to-be teen daughter and her 6-going-on-12-year-old son.

Email Author    |    Website About Jennifer

Jennifer lives in Houston with her family. In addition to reading, she enjoys travel, Bible study, food, and fun. She blogs about some of these things -- when her nose isn't in a book -- at Snapshot.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dawn October 4, 2010 at 9:09 am

The cover most definitely got my attention. I’ll be sure to put this on JAM’s library list!


2 bekahcubed October 4, 2010 at 9:50 am

Ooo, this one sounds like a keeper. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for it!


3 Katrina October 4, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Going on my list! Thanks for the review.


4 Kiera Parrott October 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Hi 5 Minutes! I’m a fellow Fiction Picture Book judge for the Cybils. I am so happy to have discovered this site! This is fantastic! My co-worker and I run a Mock Newbery group for kids and we have The Kneebone Boy on our longlist. We’ve been reading our way through the list and pulling the standouts for inclusion in the shortlist we give to the kids. Thanks for this very detailed and helpful review! Looking forward to selecting a great Fiction Picture Book shortlist with you!


5 Jennifer (5 Minutes for Books) October 4, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Awesome Keira! Dawn is the Picture Book panelist, and I (Jennifer who wrote this review) is on the MG Cybils panel. This was my nominee for the Cybils.


6 Dawn October 4, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Hey Kiera! I’m getting so excited watching the Fiction Picture Book list grow and grow, and my library check-out pile grow right along with it. :)

Please check back often- we’re fellow book lovers and have new reviews every day!


7 Carolyn Wolfe October 4, 2010 at 7:24 pm

This sounds like a terrific book to read. The inerview is interesting and I love the fact that they have adventures in a “Castle Folly”. I can’t wait to read this book and meet the characters!


8 Jennifer (5 Minutes for Books) October 5, 2010 at 9:01 am

Adventures are key to a great novel for kids!!


9 Natalie (IdSoRatherBeReading) October 4, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I love finding middle grade books and 5 Star too! I work with girls this age at church and I am going to get this one this week :)

I am new to your site and I love it! Will be back often.


10 Jennifer (5 Minutes for Books) October 5, 2010 at 9:01 am

Thanks Natalie! Welcome.


11 Petula October 4, 2010 at 10:15 pm

That book sounds so intriguing. I love books that make the reader flip back and forth from cover to words! I remember when I was a kid I used to do that with all of the books and it was disappointing if it didn’t match. I still catch myself doing that now!


12 Jennifer (5 Minutes for Books) October 5, 2010 at 9:01 am

It’s so odd when they don’t match — or when they disagree. Don’t they even read it?? This one is perfect.


13 nicole langan October 5, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Must read, thanks! for sharing.


14 Pragmatic Mom October 10, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Thanks for your post. Looks like a great book and reminds me a little of the Series of Unfortunate Events books. I will check it out!


15 Jennifer (5 Minutes for Books) October 10, 2010 at 8:50 pm

I haven’t read those books (maybe I should!), but the back of my ARC does say that it’s a bit like Snicket.


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