Monday, August 18, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Curiosity by Gary Blackwood


I first heard about this from Joanne Fritz, another MMGM blogger, and I knew this would be right up my alley. I’ve never read Gary Blackwood before (I know!) , but now I’m a fan. I loved it so much, I passed it along to my 12-year-old, who’s devouring it as well.

When I asked him what the best part was, he said: “The part where they describe how the automaton works!”





Here’s the synopsis:
Philadelphia, PA, 1835. Rufus, a twelve-year-old chess prodigy, is recruited by a shady showman named Maelzel to secretly operate a mechanical chess player called the Turk. The Turk wows ticket-paying audience members and players, who do not realize that Rufus, the true chess master, is hidden inside the contraption. But Rufus’s job working the automaton must be kept secret, and he fears he may never be able to escape his unscrupulous master. And what has happened to the previous operators of the Turk, who seem to disappear as soon as Maelzel no longer needs them? Creeping suspense, plenty of mystery, and cameos from Edgar Allan Poe and P. T. Barnum mark Gary Blackwood’s triumphant return to middle grade fiction.

 What I loved about this book:

  1. The main character. His disability is integral to the plot and who he is, but he never feels sorry for himself. I love how his motto is “whatever your fate is, accept it with good grace,” although that gets challenged throughout the book.
  2. The real historical tie-ins. My son was intrigued, because he’d heard of the Turk. I loved the tie-ins with Edgar Allen Poe—he really did write about the Turk. The fact that there were so many “real” things about this book made it feel authentic. I see how this book would be interesting to use as a read-aloud in the classroom.
  3. The interesting narration. The narrator (the main character, Rufus) is often reflecting on his story. “Every person’s life has its dark corners, of course, but I suspect that mine has had more than most…I’m only warning you, in case you’re easily upset.” This brings humor to the otherwise tense narrative, but it also adds authenticity. Books from Rufus’ time period often broke the third wall, talking to the reader, and I loved how the author did this.
  4. A behind-the-scenes look at automatons and early 19th century life. I loved all the details about how the automaton worked, phrenology, and the exhibition in Raleigh.
  5. A book for boys that’s smart. As a parent, I find it hard to find fiction for my 12 year old, who prefers reading nonfiction. It’s often assumed boys like action-action-action, but he likes books with smart characters and interesting science or historical tie-ins. I wish there were more books like this!
    If you like suspenseful historicals, automatons, or Edgar Allen Poe, check out this book!  
Have you read any interesting books for boys lately?


If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.



13 comments:

  1. Glad to read you liked this one, too. It is high on my to read list and now I am really (really) looking forward to reading it. Hopefully will get through a good chunk of reading this week!

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    1. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Deb! I'm with you, it's hard to get as much reading in during the summer months.

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  2. I will be reading this one soon as it is quickly moving up my TBR list. As for other books for boys, I'm currently reading A HITCH AT THE FAIRMOUNT. It features Jack who teams up with famed director Alfred Hitchcock in 1953 San Francisco as they search for Jack's kidnapped aunt. Farfetched, but there are references to Hitchcock's movies throughout, and a fun look at life 60 years ago in the city by the bay.

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    1. Greg, I think you'll really enjoy this one. And thank you for the rec on the Hitchcock book. I'm a big fan of Hitchcock--it sounds really intriguing!

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  3. I will be looking for this one. Thanks for the review.

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    1. You're welcome, Rosi! I hope you enjoy it.

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  4. It's really interesting seeing someone else's take on this. I'm glad that your son liked it. Thanks for the review.

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    1. It was interesting reading your review as well! It goes to show how we all connect with different things when we read.

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  5. I've heard many people say it's hard to find books for boys that age. Sounds like this is a good one.

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    1. So very true. I think also that publishers and maybe even writers don't know exactly what will appeal to boys--yet they want to reach that demographic.

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  6. Love your enthusiasm for this book, Jenni! (And thanks for the mention). Now you need to read The Shakespeare Stealer. It's really my favorite Gary Blackwood book.

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    1. I have that one waiting for me at the library. I'm really looking forward to reading it! I tend to go on binges where I read everything an author has written--I feel a Blackwood binge coming on. :)

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