The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter - book review

Magical Realism. My favorite. The ability to see the real world through a glimmering eye. I should have known this would be one of my favorite reads of 2010, just from that cover!

Look at the three Hardscrabble siblings. There's Otto. He's is the oldest and has not uttered a word since he was eight, around the time his mother disappeared. He wears a scarf and communicates through an invented sign-language. The middle Hardscrabble is Lucia. She's quick-witted, daring, a bit controlling and understands Otto's invented language. Max, the youngest, is a brainy boy, often deep in thought. One of them is the narrator of the tale, though we wonderfully never get to know which. Mr. Hardscrabble is a portrait painter who travels frequently, returning with glorious tales of the royalty he meets. Through a series of missteps, the siblings end up in the home of their maternal aunt. It is there that the real story begins. The children learn of a mysterious Kneebone Boy, locked away in a castle tower. They, of course, decide that they must rescue him. And in rescuing him, they solve the mystery of their missing mother.

One thing I especially liked was The Kneebone Boy's genre defying uniqueness. For the same reason I shun mainstream media, I embrace those stories (and tellers) who see the world in a different slant, those who are able to impart a bit of magic into the mundane without throwing us into a fantastical world of escapism (don’t get me wrong, I like a good fantasy occasionally too). It’s the ability to look at a situation of normalcy with a magical eye that fascinates me, makes me want to readjust my own lens.

Quirky, odd, charming, witty, affecting, weird: I’ll be waiting to hear more from the Hardscrabble children……

-------------------- Resources --------------------
Genre: Magical Realism with Mystery, Adventure and Gothic too!
Age: 9-12
Pages: 288
Themes: Non-Traditional Family, Love, Acceptance, Mental Illness
Character Development: Unique and Interesting Characters
Plot Engagement: Propelled by mystery of Kneebone Boy, with foreshadowing hints of missing mother
Originality: Very Original
Believability: Good, though Gothic and magical seeming, always within the realm of plausibility
Awards: Nominated for Middle Grade CYBILS Award
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Date: September 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0312377724
BUY The Kneebone Boy Here

Lesson Activities:
Genre - Keep track of parts that make this realistic story seem like fantasy
Inference - Have students guess which of the three Hardscrabble children is the narrator. Must support with examples from the story!
Cover Art - Examine several books. Discuss how the artist's depiction of the story entices (or doesn't entice) a reader. Closely examine The Kneebone Boy for clues of the story BEFORE anf then AFTER the story. You can also read author Ellen Potter's essay on the day she saw her book's cover on the Macmillan Kids Blog HERE.  Study more about the artist, Jason Chan, HERE on his Blog. And HERE on his website bio.

An Excerpt from Blogger Book Rat on YouTube:

Ellen Potter used to watch people in her NYC building's elevator and make up stories about their apartments. She knew she wanted to be a writer from the time she was eleven years old. You can learn more about her and her books on her website.
© 2007-2011 Cheryl Vanatti for
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