Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Simon Mayo
For ages 12 and up
Random House UK, 2012   ISBN: 978-0857531308

Like many children, Itchingham Lofte has been a collector of things every since he was little. He still has his collections of coins, marbles, maps, and pokemon cards, but for two years now he has been focusing much of his attention on collecting something rather unusual. Itch is collecting the elements that are found in the periodic table. Some of the elements were easy to find, while others required that he be less than truthful so that adults would sell him substances that are potentially dangerous or lethal.

The members of Itch’s family are, by now, quite used to the smelly, nasty experiments that he carries out, but when Itch manages to create an explosion that burns off his eyebrows, stinks up the house, and damages his bedroom, his mother lays down the law. Itch has to remove his elements from the house.

Having spent a certain amount of time and money on acquiring his elements, Itch feels rather possessive about them, so he packs his most valuable samples in his backpack and takes them to school. During a lesson in the school greenhouse, the arsenic wallpaper he has collected gets warm and damp, releasing a gas that poisons his entire class.

Not long after this unfortunate occurrence, one of Itch’s suppliers, Cake, gives him a rock. The rock is interesting to look at and Cake thinks it might be uranium ore, which is “only mildly radioactive.” The next day Itch’s new rock has changed color, and Itch decides to ask Mr. Watkins, one of his teachers, to take a look at it.

Mr. Watkins and then Mr. Flowerdew, another teacher, get very intrigued when they see the rock. When Mr. Flowerdew passes a Geiger counter over the rock, the device goes crazy. Clearly the rock is not mildly radioactive, it is very radioactive. The teachers decide that the rock needs to be isolated, and Mr. Flowerdew takes the rock away so that it can be placed in a lead box.

The next day, Mr. Flowerdew tells Itch that he has sent the rock to a lab in Switzerland so that it can be analyzed. Both Itch and Mr. Watkins cannot believe the man would do such a thing without talking to Itch first. As far as Itch is concerned, Mr. Flowerdew has stolen his rock, and he is furious with the teacher. Then Itch and his cousin Jack go to see Cake, and when they find him it is clear that the man is deathly ill. Cake has acute radiation poisoning, and he tells Itch that the rock has to be retrieved and hidden. It has so much potential that everyone will want it, and if it falls into the wrong hands the whole balance of power on the planet could be turned upside down.

Jack and Itch decide to go to Dr. Flowerdew’s house and they discover that the man still has the rock in his possession. Despite the fact that it is hazardous to their health, the young people steal the rock back. Itch knows in his heart that he has to do what Cake said. He has to keep the rock hidden because no one is ready to have that much power at their disposal.

Readers who enjoy thrillers will find this story irresistible. Itch’s luck fluctuates wildly. Every time it looks as if he has managed to dodge his enemies, something goes wrong, and he finds himself in trouble all over again.

The author beautifully combines fact and fiction to give readers a tale that presents us with ideas and concepts that are thought-provoking.