by Cornelia Funke, published 2000
“A water rat scuttled away as the children felt their way along the narrow passage. It led to a canal, like so many of Venice’s alleys and passages…Someone had painted “Vietato Ingresso” in clumsy letters on the door- No entry.”
Once again, I am dazzled by Cornelia Funke and her masterful way of putting characters and plot together that is memorable and exciting. As you may remember, I’ve been daunted by much of her writing as it is a bit dark for me. But when Cornelia Funke writes a children’s book like this, it erases any hesitation about recommending her other children’s books.
I love that the action in this children’s book takes place in Venice. Even if your young reader has never been to Venice, everything about it speaks of mystery and adventure. I also love that the characters are all so much larger than life – the detective, the antique store owner, the children – each one has an important role to play, and they are all well defined characters.
Most of all, I was surprised and delighted to find an element of fantasy in this children’s book – (spoiler alert:) a merry-go-round that takes you back or forward in time. Since much of the book seems so realistic, the added element is like adding just a hint of a spice to a recipe. It makes all the difference.
In addition to the action in the story, the themes of loyalty, friendship, trust, and loving parents are woven in very deftly, without sounding like any kind of lecture. The care that the older brother has for his younger sibling makes one love them both from the start.
Well written story, great characters, and fantasy – one couldn’t get a better mix of elements for excellent children’s literature.