I decided to give this one a try because it was written by an author I have come to like. At first, I assumed it would be just another Fantasy story along the lines of Inkheart and Igraine The Brave, but I was surprised to find how few fantasy elements it had. In fact, it wasn’t until further along in the book that I discovered the fantastical properties. It is nice to see writers who are able to pull off more than one format.
I believe there is also a movie version of this story, but I have not seen it, so keep that in mind when reading this review; the two may be quite different.
After the death of their mother, 12-year-old Prosper and 5-year-old Bo run away to Italy; the place their mother had told them was magical. Shortly after they arrive, it becomes clear to them that there is little magical about it. They meet a group of street kids who survive by stealing from tourists, overseen by a 13-year-old boy who goes by the name of The Thief Lord.
Prosper and Bo’s aunt hire a private detective named Victor Getz to track down the two boys. At first, you might think that she misses them, but ultimately her plan is to put Prosper in an orphanage and keep Bo like a little toy puppy. This is the reason they ran away in the first place. Unbeknownst to their aunt, Victor turns out to be a nice man who helps the children in more ways than one.
When an old man gives The Thief Lord a special job, things begin to change. The task is to find the missing wing to a supposed magical Merry-Go-Round. The legend is that anyone who rides it can become either younger or older. When things go wrong, Bo finds himself captured by his aunt, The Thief Lord’s true identity becomes known (getting him ostracized by everyone), and the money they receive from the job turns out to be fake. Yet Prosper and The Thief Lord team up to complete the task so that they can ride the Merry-Go-Round and become adults who are in charge of their own lives. Their only hope is that the legend is true.
I liked this one. I didn’t love it, but it was pretty good. The story definitely got more exciting about three-quarters of the way though. The characters were believable, the landscape and settings well described, and the situations fun to watch unfold (that is, in my mind’s eye). I would recommend it both to those who liked Cornelia Funke’s other books, and those who have never read anything by her before; the story stands strong on its own.
Things to consider:
Barnes & Noble lists this for ages 9 to 12. I agree with that, however I would expand the age group to include teens and adults. There are no sexual situations, coarse language, or extreme violence. Overall, a pretty clean tale.
Opportunities for discussion:
As the title indicates, theft is one of the central topics. As the reader, we are shown why the children stole: mainly to survive. However, most children are not under these extreme circumstances and should never have a reason to steal. Ask your children if they ever stole anything. If they are honest, they will probably say they did. Then ask them how it made them feel. Wait and listen. From there talk to them about using their desire to acquire things in a positive way rather than a negative one: such as doing chores around the house, waiting for Christmas, or mowing the neighbor’s lawn. You can also talk to them about contentment and the fruitless endeavors of obsessing over ‘things.’ It is important to instill these ideals into children no matter what age they are; it will greatly aid them in their adult life.