The Wonderling, written and illustrated by Mira Bartók published in 2017 by Candlewick Press
Arthur is a groundling, a curious part-animal, part-human creature whose dear fox face and lovely chestnut eyes speak volumes of the sensitive, kind heart within.
His quiet tenderness does him no favors, however, in the dismal, dank Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures where he lives along with scores of other raggedy, pitiful youngsters. Miss Carbunkle, a woman with a dreadfully pinched heart, rules there without mercy. Not a morsel of celebration, not a squidgeon of beauty, and certainly not a single drop of music is tolerated.
One day Arthur bravely protects a little bird named Trinket from some schoolyard bullies and in so doing earns a true and valiant friend. These two not only stage an epic break-out, but wend their way into extraordinarily strange places, meet a gamut of characters — some wise, some cunning, some downright villainous. What they overhear, stumble upon, and seek, turns into an adventure with vast repercussions for their world, and Arthur’s destiny as the Wonderling is at the center of it.
Mira Bartók’s voice is sumptuous. Her fantasy gushes with richly descriptive passages, inventive cityscapes, and highly-imaginative elements, and she’s chosen to give a starring role to Music, weaving it throughout the account. That alone makes this a more thought-provoking fantasy than many others.
Arthur himself is a bit of an antihero. He is no swarthy, swashbuckling captain figure, but a timid soul who gradually, bravely, blossoms into all he is meant to be.
The book as a whole is not as lightning-paced and action-packed as some fantasies, yet don’t let these charming fox-drawings fool you — it is similar in many ways to Oliver Twist with its settings, intensity, and sinister figures.
All that, and the final moments take place on Christmas Eve, making it a perfect holiday read for ages 10 and up. I thoroughly enjoyed it. This story is already in the process of becoming a movie, so do yourself a big favor and Read. The. Book. First!