Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful

Laurel Snyder
Illustrator:  Abigail Halpin 
For ages 8 to 10
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2010   ISBN: 978-0375861994

Penelope Grey lives in a big mansion in The City with her busy mother Delia, her busy father Dirk, and numerous servants. Instead of going to school, a tutor comes to the house to teach her about the American Revolution, math, and other subjects. Every so often Penelope spends time with “pleasant girls with names like Jane and Olivia.” Penelope is profoundly and utterly bored. If only something interesting would happen to her. If only she could have adventures like the ones girls in books have.

One day Penelope gets so desperate that she writes a wish on a piece of paper, and she drops the paper into the decorative well in her garden. She wishes that “something interesting would happen when I least expect it, just like in a book.” Just a week later, the wish is granted in a very dramatic way when Dirk Grey quits his job and decides to write a novel. This seems like a great idea at first, but it soon becomes apparent that the Greys cannot afford (literally) Dirk’s sudden impulse to leave the work force. The Greys are soon broke. The chef, housekeeper, and tutor can no longer be paid for. The big mansion becomes messy, dirty, and full of mounds of unwashed clothes. Life is looking very grim indeed.

Then Penelope’s mother gets a telegram from lawyer’s office that is in a place called Thrush Junction, which is in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee. Apparently, Delia has inherited a house from her great-great-aunt Betty. Suddenly the Greys are lifted out of the pits of despair. They pay their outstanding bills by selling many of their possessions, pack up the few things that they want to keep, and drive to Tennessee in an old beat up van. They are hopeful for the future, thinking that great-great-aunt Betty’s house is just what they need to get back on their feet. Little do they know that the house, and Thrush Junction, are not at all what they imagine them to be.

In this delightful novel, Laurel Snyder tells a wonderful story that is touched with magic and that is full of surprises. Readers will meet a colorful cast of characters, and they will see how one family’s leap of faith brings them priceless experiences.