humor, middle grade, mystery

Middle Grade Must-Reads – The Mysterious Howling

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I – The Mysterious Howling (Balzer + Bray)
Written by Maryrose Wood
Illustrated by Jon Klassen

So…this is a knock-off of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The author doesn’t try to hide it by including witty asides and long-winded introductions to chapters. Every page is filled with baroque language that evokes some laughs. It’s not a bad book, but because it is so obviously attempting to mimic an outstanding middle-grade series, you cannot help but compare the two. That means the flaws of this book stand out more. The inclusion of illustrations by Jon Klassen drew my attention to the text in the first place. His style evokes the macabre work of Edward Gorey in this context, and I think that helps give the story personality. 

Miss Penelope Lumley is a recent Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females graduate. Her first job will be the governess at Ashton Place, an estate hidden in the forest. When she arrives, Penelope cannot find a trace of any children in the house. Instead, there is a constant howling coming from the barn outside. Penelope investigates and finds three feral children being kept there. The staff and the owners explain that these children appeared one day and could not speak. They want Penelope to train the children and make them presentable by the holiday ball a month away. Penelope begins to uncover a mystery in Ashton Place that may help her discover where these children came from.

If your student is very into Gothic flowery stories, you will not be able to go wrong with this one. I personally love A Series of Unfortunate Events and wasn’t overly excited about this one. I can’t put my finger on it, but the language doesn’t flow as smoothly from Wood’s pen as it seems from Lemony Snicket’s. It’s not a bad book, but it pales in comparison to the original.

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