Written by Lauren Oliver & H.G. Chester
Middle Grade, Mystery, Adventure
Published October 8th 2015
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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Roll up! Roll up! Fans of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events brace yourselves for an adventure of a lifetime. Witness the freaks, wonders and oddities at the Dime Museum. Tread the path of the four extraordinary children who live there...The book is about, among other things, the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. Philippa is a powerful mentalist, Sam is the world's strongest boy, and Thomas can squeeze himself into a space no bigger than a bread box. The children live happily with museum owner Mr. Dumfrey, alongside other misfits. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.When the museum's Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts.
In one of the last dime museums in the world, Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities and Wonders can now add the shrunken head of Chief Ticuna Piranha to the list of marvels, a treasure purchased from a dusty old antique store in the hope of bringing patrons back to the museum. But with the shrunken head supposedly comes a curse, made evident by an audience member found to have plunged to her death only hours after viewing the show. But she isn't the only one.
In a string of strange accidents, murders and foul play, it'll be left up to orphans Pippa, Sam, Thomas and new resident Max to follow the clues to find not only the stolen shrunken head, but the killer who is determined to frame Mister Dumfrey. Everywhere the amateur detectives turn, reporter Bill Evans is on the case with his sensationalised headlines and campaign to slander the museum at every opportunity. As the body count starts mounting and the threat of being placed into foster care, Pippa, Sam, Thomas and Max will need to find the stolen shrunken head and the killer before he strikes again.
I haven't always had the best author reader relationship with Lauren Oliver. I enjoyed her Delirium series, but both Before I Fall and Panic were books that I had so many issues with. Her new foray into middle grade with The Curiosity House series is a complete success and I enjoyed every moment. There is something so utterly lovely about a well written and adventurous middle grade series and installment one, The Shrunken Head, shows exactly why the young and young at heart are enamored by the genre. It follow the story of three orphans in twelve year old Sam, Pippa and Thomas who are about to be joined by new resident Max. The four children have extraordinary abilities and are among the headline acts at Dumfrey's Dime Museum, but business hasn't been as prosperous of late and without the shrunken head, they will be forced to close.
The storyline although character driven, also features an old world charm to the New York location. Dime Museums were popular during the middle Nineteenth century as a form of entertainment for the working class. Most were little more than trickery in order to give patrons a cheap thrill, which also seems to be the case with Mister Dumfrey, with the exception of the four children of course.
One of the main aspects that also draws me into reading middle grade are the illustrations. Whether it just be chapter pages or full page illustrations, it only adds to the magical reading experience and The Shrunken head was no different. The monochrome illustrations scattered throughout were absolutely lovely, I especially loved the imitation performer advertisement posters. So lovely and vintage.
Even being a longer middle grade read, the storyline is not only wonderfully written but well paced. A mixture of old world charm, mystery and cheekiness that middle grade and early young adult readers will be enchanted by.
the final verdict
The Shrunken Head is a brilliant first installment in what will no doubt be an incredible new middle grade adventure series. Mixing old world charm and a motley crew of weird and wonderful characters, it's wonderfully written and the mystery will thrill and delight readers with it's sense of fun and lighthearted humour. Perfect for older middle grade or primary school readers and early young adult readers alike. I can't wait to for the next installment in The Curiosity House series. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Kelly is currently reading Madame Tussaud's Apprentice and contemplating dying her hair bright red like a deranged rooster.
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