Review of The Puppets of Spelhorst

The Puppets of Spelhorst The Puppets of Spelhorst
by Kate DiCamillo; illus. by Julie Morstad
Intermediate    Candlewick    160 pp.
10/23    9781536216752    $17.99

An aged sea captain dies, leaving a chest containing five puppets. After some trials and adventures, the puppets—boy, girl, king, owl, and wolf—end up in the grand home of a pair of sisters and fulfill their theatrical destiny by appearing in a play written by one of the girls. The frame story of this absorbing book of nested tales involves the sea captain and his history of unfulfilled love. Within that story is a chronicle of the puppets and the sisters, and within that narrative is the puppet play itself, which features a young man tragically cursed to a life of loneliness and despair. The story ends with a servant stealing the puppets and running away, presumably to fulfill her own destiny. Like many other stories featuring toys, from Hitty to The Mouse and His Child, there is a strain of melancholy here, with characters who long for autonomy but whose existence is dependent on the imaginations of others. This mood is perfectly captured in digitally rendered pencil drawings that add specificity (a Regency-esque setting in fictional Norendy), dignity, drama, and sheer beauty. First in “a projected trio of novellas linked by place and mood.”

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Ellis
Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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