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:
- 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!).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.