Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head

Lauren Oliver, H. C. Chester
For ages 9 to 12
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: Greg Steinbruner
HarperCollins Publishers and Blackstone Audio, 2015   ISBN: 978-1504646642

There once was a time when there were little museums full of curiosities all over the country, but these days there is only one of these fascinating places left that is of any consequence, and it can be found in New York City. Dumprey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders has a collection of wax figures and all kinds of strange objects from the past including George Washington’s wooden teeth, a pen that was used to sign the Declaration of Independence, the headdress of a pygmy witch doctor, and a mummified cat that was found in King Tut’s tomb.

In addition to these inanimate objects there are the “freaks,” living people who are in some way different from the norm. There is an alligator boy (who is actually full grown), a bearded lady, a fat lady, a dwarf, an elephant man, a magician, a giant, and then there are four children. Thomas can bend his body into shapes that most humans can only dream about. Pippa is a mentalist, Sam is unbelievably strong, and Max (a new arrival) is a master knife thrower. The children are all orphans and Mr. Dumprey has given then a home where they are accepted for who they are. They are also educated and cared for. It is true that they need to perform for audiences, which none of them like doing, but they understand that they have to do their part – as do all the ‘freaks’ – to support the museum that is their home.

Business is not good these days, and so when Mr. Dumprey gets the opportunity to buy a shrunken head for the collection he leaps at it. He is convinced that the head will bring in lots of visitors and he is right. People flock to the museum to see the gruesome artifact. Mr. Dumprey is elated until things start to go horribly wrong. One of the visitors to the museum, after seeing the head, collapses. Just five hours later the old lady falls to her death and a local reporter writes an article saying that the death was due to “THE CURSE OF THE SHRUNKEN HEAD.”

It turns out that this sensational nonsense brings even more people flocking to the museum. The public loves curses, and they want to see the head that they like to think can kill people. Mr. Dumprey cannot help being pleased by this turn of events and then the unthinkable happens: the shrunken head is stolen. The children find out that the head was Mr. Dumprey’s “Last chance at paying our debts and keeping the doors open.” Without the head that are “sunk.”

The children decide that they have to find out who took the head before it is too late, but their efforts are complicated by the fact that people start dropping like flies. First the man who sold the head to Mr. Dumprey is murdered, and then Potts, who works at the museum, dies of cyanide poisoning. Mr. Dumprey is taken into custody on suspicion of killing Potts, and the children are faced with the prospect of losing the only real home and family that they have ever known. Desperate to save Mr. Dumprey and the museum, the children keep trying to find out who committed the murders and who took the shrunken head. The artifact seems to be the solution to their problems, but it has also become the center of a mystery that could change their lives forever.

This is the first title of what promises to be a wonderful new series. With colorful characters and mysteries that are wrapped in puzzles, this is a story that young listeners will find quite captivating.