About the Book: In the town of Zombay, there is a witch named Graba who has clockwork chicken legs and moves her house around—much like the fairy tale figure of Baba Yaga. Graba takes in stray children, and Rownie is the youngest boy in her household. Rownie’s only real relative is his older brother Rowan, who is an actor. But acting is outlawed in Zombay, and Rowan has disappeared.
Desperate to find him, Rownie joins up with a troupe of goblins who skirt the law to put on plays. But their plays are not only for entertainment, and the masks they use are for more than make-believe. The goblins also want to find Rowan—because Rowan might be the only person who can save the town from being flooded by a mighty river.
This accessible, atmospheric fantasy takes a gentle look at love, loss, and family while delivering a fast-paced adventure that is sure to satisfy.
My Two Cents: This National Book Award winner is magical, inventive, and very creepy. Rownie himself is immensely likeable and endearing, and even the creepiest characters are fleshed-out and fascinating. This book would spark interesting discussions and ideas about good guys and bad guys and impossibly amazing inventions. A great pick for kids in the mood for something strange and a little dark.
Grade Level: 5-7
- Visit William Alexander’s website.
- Watch this video of the author reading a section from this book. (He even wears a fox mask for a minute!)
- Read this fun summary of ten goblin legends from around the world. Which one reminds you most of this book?
- One of the creatures Rownie encounters is a fish that swims in dust. Watch this video about mudskippers, a real fish that hangs out on dry land.
- Some of the characters in this story get around on gearwork legs. Watch this great introduction to gears from the Children’s Museum of Houston.
- There are lots of birds doing strange things in this book. Watch the birds around you by going on a bird behavior scavenger hunt.
More to Read:
- Another magical, fantastical tale of a transient group of misfits: Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones
- Another story with amazing gearwork and a lost, lonely boy: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
- A less creepy tale of “magic, mystery, and a very strange adventure”:Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans
- Another boy who is surrounded by magical creatures and up against almost-impossible obstacles: Rump by Liesl Shurtliff