During my Wordstock Sneak Peek, I mentioned that I absolutely loved this book: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. I fully intended to write a review shortly afterward, but due to some mix-ups it took me a while to get my hands on a copy again. (Short story: I checked it out of the library, read it before my interview with Auxier, and then had to return it before I had written about it. And then there was a really long line to get it back from the library. And then the publisher was going to send me a copy, but it never arrived, and then it was December.)
Peter Nimble is a blind orphan who, under the tutelage of the beggarmonger Mr. Seamus, became trained in the art of thievery. But one day, while breaking into the carriage of a mysterious Haberdasher, he discovers a mysterious box that sets him on a fantastic journey. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is, naturally, the story of that journey, and it is filled with magic, adventure, colorful characters, and a riddle.
It’s classified as a “middle grade” book, though it’s one that I think teenagers, young adults, and adults will really love as well. There are some similarities to Alice in Wonderland in some of the nonsensical fantasy that happens, but it also reminded me a bit of Peter Pan, the way that it’s a book about children but doesn’t speak down to them; there are parts that only older readers will really get, coupled with a keen wit and talent for wordplay. (I should note that there are some things parents should be aware of, but I’ll get to that below*.)
As soon as I read the opening lines of the book, I was hooked. Auxier’s narrator doesn’t intrude on the story (the way Lemony Snicket or Pseudonymous Bosch do), but he does make sly remarks, subtle winks to alert readers. He gives you the sense that you’re in on a secret, that he knows you’re pretty clever, and that you probably don’t need to be told certain details, but he’ll include them for those readers who need a little extra help — not you, of course. In this way, when you read Peter Nimble you feel like the author is telling the story to you, and really draws you into the book.
There were so many books that I read for Wordstock that I really enjoyed, but I think Peter Nimble may be my favorite of the bunch. In fact, I think it may be my favorite kids’ book that I’ve read this year. (Let’s not forget Plain Kate, which is a gorgeous and heart-breaking book that’s also about an orphan and magic, but for older readers.) Peter Nimble is one that I can see myself reading again, both for myself and out loud to my daughters. I love stories of incredible journeys, ones in which protagonist discovers more about himself through his encounters with marvelous characters (like The Phantom Tollbooth, for instance), and I’m happy to add this book to the list.
Having met Auxier in person, I appreciated Peter Nimble even more, and the story behind the story is also great. (Read my interview with him here, if you haven’t already.) For more about Auxier and his work, check out his website, The Scop. And you can even read the entire first chapter for free.
Here’s a trailer for Peter Nimble, to give you a flavor of the book:
*Now, for parents of younger kids, there is a caveat, but it’s hard to explain without some spoilers about the plot. If your kids are squeamish about violence or prone to nightmares after scary stories, please click to the next page for a few more details. However, if you’re reading the book yourself or have older kids for whom it’s not an issue, I encourage you to stop here so I won’t give away any more details.
In the book, Peter encounters a character who warns him about the crows. He’s terrified of them, and hides from them. Later on, while Peter is hiding from the crows, they catch this other character and kill him. It’s never described explicitly, because it’s told from Peter’s point of view, but it’s not really toned down or anything. I will mention that later on you do learn that not everything is as it seems, but if the mental image of somebody being pecked to death by a murder of crows is going to keep your kids up at night, you might want to wait until they’re a bit older before sharing this book with them.
There is some other violence and creepiness in other parts of the book as well, but I think the scene with the crows is probably the most shudder-inducing. Overall, the book tends to be more on the whimsical side of things, but there is some darkness to it as well.