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"The Undrowned Child," by Michelle Lovric

Ohhh. I found another. I can easily check off all the steps of the first two parts of the Hero’s Quest for Teodora, the heroine of The Undrowned Child. The return part doesn’t follow exactly, but some of those steps are taken. What a surprise, too. I thought it was going to be a tale about mermaids (no pun intended).

Instead, The Undrowned Child is about ancient prophecies and several centuries of the history of Venice. Yes, mermaids play an important role, but Teodora is a human girl, albeit with special gifts. She is the undrowned child of the title and, along with a young Venetian boy, helps to save Venice from an ancient enemy, who is intend on destroying the city. The novel is replete with flying cats, ghosts hoping to redeem themselves, magic spells, statues that come to life, and really wonderful mermaids (who learned human languages from sailors—it’s always “talk like a pirate day” among the maids).

It’s a great read and seems all very new to me (a new twist on the hero’s quest, if you will). But it’s a complicated novel and it’s long -- more than 400 pages. And that bothers me. Teodora and Renzo (the boy) are only about 11 years old. In fact, according to the book, you have to be younger than 13 to see mermaids and ghosts and other such creatures. But there’s a little rule about children’s literature: Children like to read about other children that are their age or slightly older. Sure, rules are meant to be broken, but the actions Teo and Renzo take in this book, as well as the attitudes they and another young character have, are of slightly older children. And the length of this book and the plot suggests that children 11 and up would be more likely to read it.

The publisher suggests that the book is for kids 9 to 12, but I think it’s more reasonable for kids 11 to 14. (You can argue that the Harry Potter books are just as long and longer and kids younger than 9 have read them, but the Harry Potter books got longer until peaking with The Order of the Phoenix (number 5). They didn’t start that way. And kids were therefore already invested in the characters and story. Plus the plot of The Undrowned Child is more complicated – it could be compared to the last two HP books together.)

Of course, I’m generalizing. There might very well be a preteen who’ll read this and enjoy it. And it’ll be fun to find him or her. 

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