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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head, by Lauren Oliver & H. C. Chester. Harper, 2015. $21.00 ages 9 and up

"Look for proof, Pippa had told him - but what kind of proof, she couldn't say. It was extremely improbable that Potts had the shrunken head just stuffed into his bureau wit his socks, especially since the money in his pocket suggested he had already sold it. But maybe there was evidence the head had been here and then moved - or maybe the payment was merely a portion of the money ... "

This book is great fun, and boasts a promise for more. Four children, each  with a very special attribute, live in a house of magic. It's New York in the early 1930s, and the world is very interested in the four who live at Mr. Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities and Wonders. Pippa who reads minds, Sam who often forgets his own strength and finds himself in trouble for it, and Thomas who can bend himself into all sorts of unlikely places are recently joined by Max who throws knives with incredible precision and picks pockets with ease. The others have always been there and are uneasy in welcoming their newest member.

The cursed shrunken head is a recent acquisition, meant to draw big crowds and much attention. When it disappears, it sets off a series of murders and strange events that convince the children to become investigators. Mr. Dumfrey's arrest only fuels their determination. Their path to solution is not without complications. The museum needs an influx of money to keep it in operation. The children are able to use their best assets to try to save the only home they know. But, there are inherent dangers and deceit afoot. They must work quickly to try to bring the museum back to its former self and welcome guests once more.

Its cast of interesting characters, the mystery that lies at the heart of the children's adventure, and moments of terror and humor are just what middle graders need to keep them interested and wanting more. It's a story about friendship and bonding, deceit and death, having a home and family, and being patient, smart and determined. The pace carries the reader along rapidly, always wondering what is around the next corner. They have a past, but it is mentioned briefly. This leaves us open to anticipate the second volume of a projected four book series.

We have much yet to learn.

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