Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Dulcimer Boy, The

Dulcimer Boy, The

Tor Seidler
Illustrator:  Brian Selznick 
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2003   ISBN: 0066236096

In an eerie world where people have cold and hard hearts, twin baby boys are left at the doorstep of their uncle?s house. They grow up into odd boys kept hidden from the world because of their strangeness. The only thing they have from their parents is a dulcimer. The dulcimer has a powerful attraction for William, the stronger of the twins, and he decides to take the wonderful instrument and flee. This is a dark, almost gothic story where cruelty to children is commonplace. In a Dickensian world where orphaned youngsters are there to be thrown away or used for profit, William and his lonely little brother seem to be the pawns of chance.

A masterfully written tale with powerful imagery, this is a disturbing book which left this reader feeling more than a little uncomfortable. True to the Dickensian model, a stranger steps in to help the boys in their time of need and we are relieved to have a happy ending. The author has infused small pieces of wry humor into his story which adds to the weird nature of this book. For example the horrible aunt and uncle are called Mr. and Mrs. Carbuncle. A carbuncle can be a gem but it can also be a terrible sore.

There is one aspect of the story which is puzzling and interesting: How can William leave his poor defenseless brother in the home of his cruel aunt and uncle? How can he abandon Jules, a boy who does not speak and who is so frail and ill? There is a magical and ethereal quality to William, an almost spirit like element to his personality, and yet at the same time he is heartless enough to leave his brother behind. Once again Tor Seidler has written a book that is deeply moving, thought provoking, and that will appeal to many different kinds of readers.