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Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes (Peter Nimble Adventure) Paperback – November 1, 2012
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About the Author
Jonathan Auxier, raised in Canada, now lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he works as a screenwriter. This is his first novel. You can visit him online at TheScop.com.
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Here's what I need: books that I can look a kid in the eye and say, "Trust me, you're going to love this." So that while they're developing their reading (and thinking) strategies, they'll fall in love with literature and see the relevancy for the skills. I'm looking for books that create "the circulation effect" (I pass off a book and by the time it's returned two months later, I've seen it on 15 different desks). I'm quite confident that Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes will be one of those books.
First and foremost, Peter Nimble has an absolutely mesmerizing flow to it. It's got all the fun of disenfranchised Dickens mixed with Phantom Tollbooth absurdity. Jonathan Auxier seamlessly blends these two very diverse attributes, strapping his readers to his back as he takes them along for a breakneck ride through complete obscurity. One minute you're meeting his traveling companion, an enchanted horse-cat-knight; the next minute you're giggling over a reference to 18th century burgling proverb. And that's what makes this novel so much fun.
Auxier immerses you in this wonderfully substantial tale while relentlessly sprinkling in bits of humor at every turn. To really buy into fantasy, there needs to be in a believable world. In a lot of the high-fantasy for middle-graders that I've read, this tends to get a bit descriptive. Not that it's a bad thing, most of the time it's completely essential to the story. But for inexperienced readers who haven't built the stamina to stick it out, such description can slow the story down to abandonment. Auxier does much of his world-building through an astute sense for humor. Thieving terminology and old sayings build Peter's culture. This enables the author to spend less time creating the world and more time pushing Peter through it. And the reader can pick the rest up along the way.
By omitting the overly descriptive elements of fantasy, we're left with a story that moves at a truly exceptional pace. Take my knees for example. I had an hour to kill before heading home for dinner. I made my way over to the beach with Peter Nimble in tow. Before I knew it three hours had passed, my legs were cooked, and I was late for family dinner.
The chapter structure and pace just work sensationally. Some end in total cliffhangers, others are satisfying bookends; all without ever feeling predictable or formulaic. Sometimes a section was wrapped up nicely when I assumed it would stretch out, while other times I thought I knew how a chapter would end only to be left with a dropped jaw and a yearning to find out where we're going next. And all of this happens from the moment we set foot into Peter's tale.
Right from the introduction it's clear that we're in the hands of a storyteller. It doesn't feel like the characters or the narrator know something that you don't. The information we learn in the beginning later becomes pertinent but it never comes off overly mysterious. There's nothing wrong with employing those strategies at a story's onset but doing so risks losing that audience that isn't quite ready to pick out the questions they'll need to keep in their heads for a few hundred pages.
Another major component of Peter Nimble's flow is the manner in which we meet new characters and explore new settings. The story's landscapes constantly shift without inundating the reader with detail. We grow accustomed to Peter's new surroundings with him. Seeing as how Peter is blind, both he and the reader are exposed to the setting by moving through it. Characters too, flow in and out without coming off hollow or hurried.
Our boy, Peter Nimble, is blind. The disability drives the story without ever becoming preachy or asking the reader for sympathy. It's refreshing to have a main character whose handicap is the source of his success (without him having to learn some character trait by coming to terms with the disability). In fact, frequently, the disability becomes the butt of many a pun. Good. We certainly want to teach our kids to treat everybody, able or handicapped, with respect. It's nice to see Peter isn't discluded from good-natured humor at his expense, like so often is the case when disabilities appear in children's literature.
Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes is sure to be hit with middle grade boys and girls alike. At times it's utterly absurd; others, rich and poignant, but it always remains sensationally obscure. And if nothing else, it's that current of obscurity running throughout the novel that will charge its readers and keep them chuckling until the last page.
It's my job to get emerging readers the skills they need to be proficient with text. But what good is a skill set if you can't find a relevancy in it? I say I have just as much a responsibility to help my readers find both. Many times, it requires some salesmanship. And, a salesman is only as good as his product. It's the caliber of story that is simply... Fantastic.
Okay, I can't end without mentioning how every bit of this book drips with style. The cover is gorgeous, the chapter titles are some of the best I've ever heard, and as I was finishing it up on the way to our field trip today a student leaned in to check out the illustration at the top of the chapter. That attention to detail clearly shows the amount of respect both the author and the publisher have for their readers.
When I first heard about Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes a few months ago, it was often compared to the Harry Potter series and Peter Pan. Truth be told, it was this comparison that sparked my interest. Now, a comparison such as this is a lot for a new book to live up to, but Peter Nimble does not disappoint. It, well, lives up fantastically!
But, to simply compare this book to Harry Potter or Peter Pan or any other well known work does not do it proper justice, because Peter Nimble wields and weaves its own unique literary magic. This is a book that other newbie books will someday strive to be compared to.
This fast paced story is full of magic, adventure, humor, and fantastical mischief.
So, just what makes Peter Nimble so fantastic? Well, first there's Peter himself, the blind orphan thief. With Peter, Auxier creates an instantly likeable and relatable character. I was worried at first that Peter's blindness would sway my sympathies for his character and have me rooting for him no matter what, but I quickly realized that, while his blindness plays a significant role in this story, it's not what defines Peter. Peter's creative and quick intelligence, his courage, and his compassion are what define him. Much like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, Peter Nimble is a reluctant hero. Not because he does not want to do good and help others, but because he simply does not believe himself to have the makings of a hero. As the novel progresses, both readers and Peter himself discover just what Peter is made of.
I found Peter's character to be quite refreshing, because although Peter Nimble is a fantasy novel full of magic, Peter is simply an ordinary human. Yes, Peter possesses extraordinary abilities, but these are not supernatural or magical in nature. He has no magic wand or superpowers. His keen and heightened senses and masterful thieving abilities are things that he had to develop and train on his own, over time. While he is aided by magic, in the end it is his nature and abilities that prove to be Peter's most helpful assets. I also like that even though Peter proves to be smart, resourceful, and brave, he still acts his age; he's a ten year old boy who is not above petty name calling or childish squabbling.
Then there's Peter's adventure, which I was easily and quickly swept into. As Peter and Sir Tode (his sidekick and friend who happens to be horse-cat-knight man) journey from our world to the world of the Vanished Kingdom, I found myself fascinated by the fantastical and whimsical creations (a dogfish! talking apes! an army of ravens! sea dragons!) I was introduced to. I felt like Gulliver on his travels or Alice exploring Wonderland. And there is a very Wonderland-ish quality to the Vanished Kingdom; as if it were Peter's world, only as seen through a looking glass. This adventure is very action packed, with enough twists and turns that kept me excited and guessing.
But what I think I love best about this book is how well it speaks to its intended audience. There is a very witty, smart, and sharp bite to the voice and tone of this book that really reflects the witty, smart, and sharp nature of kids these days. I think a lot of MG books have the habit of underestimating kids' ability to understand and comprehend sarcasm and irony, or they come across as condescending with their predictability and fluffy, hunky dory outcomes. But Peter Nimble seems to almost rely on the fact that kids are always sharper than grown ups want to give them credit for, and this notion is really celebrated throughout the book. And Peter Nimble, although fantastical and whimsical, is not all rainbows and lollipops.
But just because this is a MG book, doesn't mean that it isn't just as entertaining for older readers....believe me it is. I was pulled in from page one and this book had me captivated till the very end. And, as a former English major, who spent four years of my life examining literature from very analytical and theoretical perspectives, I couldn't help but notice how layered this book is. Like many other MG and YA books (Harry Potter series, The Graveyard Book, Series of Unfortunate Events, Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland), this book touches upon a lot of complex notions and topics: human nature, nature vs. nurture, dystopian societies, fate/destiny. I only wish this book was around when I was in college; it would have made an excellent paper topic. Although, unless you are reading this book for school, I suggest just enjoying it for the fantastic, adventure story that is.
Peter Nimble, the greatest thief who ever lived, proves to truly be the greatest in every sense of the word, and Jonathan Auxier proves to be a master storyteller, which of course I've read, is the most noble profession in this world.