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The Robe of Skulls: The First Tale from the Five Kingdoms (Tales from the Five Kingdoms) Hardcover – July 8, 2008

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 740L (What's this?)
  • Series: Tales from the Five Kingdoms (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick; First Edition edition (July 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0763635316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763635312
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,088,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Prolific British author French (Once Upon a Time, 1996) serves up a charmingly witty adventure peopled with all manner of fairy-tale archetypes: a bad prince who is really not the least bit evil, a beautiful but nasty stepsister, a beleaguered but brave little girl named Gracie, and a talking bat. Lady Lamorna, an aging, evil sorceress, sets off to buy herself a grotesque gown, while at the same time Marlon the bat rescues Gracie from her cellar prison and leads her into the wilderness and the eventual safety of a group of old crones. Meanwhile, Prince Marcus has been left at home for bad behavior and is thus happily passed over by Lady Lamorna’s wicked and calculating spell that turns his twin and the other princes and princesses into frogs. French is a deft storyteller who keeps all the plotlines crisscrossing as beautifully as the web the crones must keep straight and true. Devotees of fractured fairy tales will be as pleased as Gracie with the results. Grades 3-5. --Francisca Goldsmith


Chapter One
"Skulls," said Lady Lamorna. "Definitely skulls. Rows and rows of dear little skulls, sewn all along the hem." She sighed with pleasure as she imagined the clitter-clatter of bone on her cold stone floors. "After all, it really is time I had a new gown. Black velvet, of course, and long . . . very long. Perhaps embroidered? Hmm . . . yes. A motif of spiders, or maybe twists of poison ivy." Her huge silver eyes gleamed. "In fact, why not interweave the ivy with spiders' webs? That
would be truly beautiful. And petticoats. Layers and layers of blood-red petticoats . . . oh, yes, yes, YES! It will be a robe beyond all compare, and I shall order it this very minute!"

Lady Lamorna snapped her long bony fingers, and within seconds a sharp-toothed bat came flipping in through the open window.


"I have an order for the Ancient Crones," Lady Lamorna said. "I require a new robe, edged with

"Got it." The bat made a swift circle over the Lady's head. "Skulls, velvet, webs, ivy, petticoats. No prob. Delivery date?"

Lady Lamorna looked put out. "Bat! Listen to me! I would like a new robe, made of deep-black

"Told ya. I got it." The bat circled again. "Heard you a mile away. I'm a bat, right? Bat ears 'n' all that stuff. Now-delivery?"

Lady Lamorna gave up. "As soon as possible," she said stiffly.

"Roger Wilco. I'll be back soon with info on price and delivery. Have the readies ready. Coins of all denominations readily accepted. Ciao!" And the bat whizzed away into the purple twilight.

For a second, Lady Lamorna considered frizzling the bat to a burnt ember as it flew, but then she
remembered her delicious dress. With a smile of happy anticipation, she swept toward her treasure chest, flung open the lid . . . and SCREAMED!

They still talk about that scream in the high mountain village of Fracture. Dogs howled and bit their owners.

Cats' whiskers curled into corkscrews and fell off.

Children clutched their ears and shrieked in agony.

Only the old and extremely deaf were spared . . . the old, the extremely deaf, and Gracie Gillypot.

Gracie had been shut in her stepfather's cold, dark, and spidery cellar for being cheerful, and the cellar had very thick walls. Even in the cellar she heard a faint cry and wondered what it could be-but her ears did nothing worse than tingle. Her stepsister, Foyce, caught the full blast, and when Gracie was finally allowed out of the cellar, Foyce slapped her several times because her
head felt as if it were full of stinging wasps, and she didn't like it.

Gubble, crouched only a few yards away from Lady Lamorna as she hit the highest and most piercing note of her scream, sighed heavily. He'd been the Lady's servant for more than 170 years, and he had heard her scream before. He knew what the scream meant. It meant trouble.
"Ttwenty-four-carat gold. I forgot reading could be this much fun." — Philip Ardagh, author of the Eddie Dickens trilogy — Philip Ardagh

More About the Author

Vivian French is an acclaimed children's author with a long and respected list of titles to her name. She lives in Edinburgh and is a regular attendee at the Edinburgh Book Festival where she hosts events with illustrators of picture books.

Customer Reviews

We're excited to read the next in the series.
Clarissa K - Savannah
This book is a fun read, with entertaining characters and an intricate, fun plot.
The book would be great to read aloud to children.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on July 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Just above the town of Fracture lies a ghastly castle with an even ghastlier occupant, Lady Lamorna, who is just plain freaky. Her latest wish is a magnificent black velvet gown that is studded with skulls. When she goes to pay for it she finds that her treasure chest is empty. Instead of canceling her order, Lady Lamorna concocts a plan to pay for the dress.

Her plan includes a couple of members of the royal party, some frogs, and blackmail.

Then there is Gracie Gillypot, a shy girl who spends most of her days locked up in the cellar under the stairs of her house. When she's not spending time with the spiders under the stairs she is running after her stepfather and complying with his every wish. When a talking bat finds her one day, he promises her a better life and takes off. Days later he returns and helps Gracie escape. He's taking her to see the Ancient Crones, who will hopefully be able to help her with her wicked stepsister and stepfather problem.

Last but not least there is the prince that scoots under Lady Lamorna's radar. Marcus is a rather curious prince who really doesn't want anything to do with royalty. When his brother is turned into a frog he is determined to find the person who committed this heinous crime. Through a twist of fate he is paired up with Gracie and they set off to put Lady Lamorna in her rightful place.

This book was an absolute riot. While it is a super-fast read, you will find yourself enthralled with the quirkiness of the characters and loving the story. The illustrations are very comical, too! While this is definitely a middle grade novel, it is definitely suited for older and younger readers alike. I really enjoyed the quick-moving plot that keeps taking twists and turns. I loved how the author connected everything in a way that wasn't predictable and added to the hilarity of the book.

Overall, I really liked THE ROBE OF SKULLS and highly recommend it!

Reviewed by: Tasha
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brendan Moody TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
For an adult, reviewing a children's book can be an awkward task. You're not a member of the book's target audience, and it isn't always easy-- or even possible-- to read or think the way a child would. In such circumstances, the most you can do is offer your own, adult opinion on the book's merits, with perhaps a guess as to how kids might feel. The best juvenile fiction is, of course, equally enjoyable for children of all ages. Vivian French's The Robe of Skulls isn't quite that good. Its world, characters, and plot are too simple to capture the imagination of most adults. But it is a charming and often funny story that's likely to delight some preteens, and might even provide adults who have a soft spot for such books with a couple hours of suitable entertainment.

The evil sorceress Lady Lamorna has decided that what she wants more than anything in the world is a new dress: a black velvet robe with motifs of ivy and spiderwebs-- and with skulls sewn along the hem. To pay for this fine garment, she plots to turn the princes and princesses of neighboring kingdoms into frogs and then offer to restore them, for a great reward, of course. Can Gracie Gillypot escape her tyrannical stepfather and cold, beautiful stepsister to thwart this scheme? Will Prince Marcus, twin brother to the threatened Prince Arioso, be any help? And just who are the Ancient Crones?

It's probably clear from this plot overview that the book makes liberal use of familiar fantasy motifs. The plucky orphan girl, the evil stepfamily, the bored young prince, the evil sorceress, her dimwitted servant, the magical weavers: they're all here. And their fates are what you might expect from every fairy tale you ever read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shelly on July 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Robe of Skulls is a delightful story about an old sorceress, a young girl, a prince, an evil stepsister, and a troll whose head is frequently getting knocked off.

Lamorna, the sorceress, orders a new robe only to discover she has no gold left to pay for it. To make the money she needs she and her troll hatch a plan to secretly turn several princes and princesses to frogs then to charge their parents an exorbitant fee to turn them back. In order to complete her task Lamorna must leave her castle for the first time in a hundred years.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't know where the story was heading until after I'd read several chapters. Even then, it didn't quite go where I expected it to. The story has twists and turns as it bounds ever forward to an equally surprising ending.

My congratulations to Vivian French for writing such an entertaining story that I'll gladly recommend to family and friends. The Illustrations by Ross Collins added equally to my pleasure.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By lefty33 on July 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I truly enjoyed this book. It manages to be spooky without being scary, so that children can enjoy it. The book would be great to read aloud to children.

I loved the way the focus shifted from Gilly to Marcus to Lamorna and back so that each chapter was primarily about one character. It was fun to watch the three separate stories slowly progressing towards each other until finally paths crossed. What a great way to set up a book!

Readers of children's fiction, regardless of age, would enjoy this book. It was a delight to read.
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