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posted: 10/2/2012 4:37 AM

All is not as it seems when puppets come to life

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  • "Splendors and Glooms" by Laura Amy Schlitz (2012, Candlewick Press) $17.99, 400 pages.

      "Splendors and Glooms" by Laura Amy Schlitz (2012, Candlewick Press) $17.99, 400 pages.

 
By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Did your toys come alive at night?

It happens in the movies and it's always been a question in your mind. While you were abed, did they dance on the floor, play with your books, or try on your clothes? Better question: How would you know? They'd never do anything when you were awake and, well, you had to sleep sometime.

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In the new book "Splendors and Glooms" by Laura Amy Schlitz, toys really can come to life. That's because they were never fully dead.

Clara Wintermute was pampered and sheltered.

Because her parents had lost four other children to cholera, Clara wasn't even allowed to cross London's streets unless the crosswalk was swept clean first. She was given very few freedoms so it was an unusual delight that Clara was in the park on the day the puppet show was there.

She was fascinated with the little boy who made the puppets dance. The girl who played the violin had smiled at her. Friendless Clara had begged Papa to hire the puppet show for her birthday party the next day.

It was a party her father soon regretted.

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall weren't related, but it probably seemed that they were.

No, Professor Grisini had taken Parsefall from the workhouse and taught the boy pocket-picking and puppetry. Later, when Lizzie Rose was orphaned, Grisini took her in, too, because she could sew and paint backdrops for his Fantoccini.

Lizzie Rose knew that Grisini was not the benevolent, cultured man he pretended to be. He had a temper and he never really cared for her and Parsefall. They were always hungry and, despite Lizzie Rose's efforts, always a little tattered.

So when Clara Wintermute invited the children to tea before Clara's birthday party, Lizzie Rose was quite surprised.

Up in Strachan's Ghyll, the red jewel that the Witch wore around her neck pulsed with heat and it was growing stronger. Her magic was useless against it and she knew it was time to pass the stone forward.

But how? Grisini had tried to steal it once, and when she punished him for it, he'd muttered something that gave her hope.

With her last shred of life, she summoned him to the castle

When the days grow short and darkness lurks longer, there are times when you need a few delicious shivers. For that, "Splendors and Glooms" is what you want.

Author and Newbery Medal Winner Laura Amy Schlitz packs her story full of Victorian doom, but she also sneaks in a few snickers for readers who are paying close attention. This is a draw-you-in-quick kind of book with a nice dark theme that stays as the story unfolds. Surprises drop evenly into readers' laps throughout, and though the ending is a bit fairy-tale-ish, I can't imagine anything more satisfying.

Perfect for kids 11 and up, I think "Splendors and Glooms" would also work for a grown-up who can appreciate good writing and malevolence, magic and malice.

Just don't take it to bed because, well, you have to sleep sometime.

• Terri Schlichenmeyer, aka The Bookworm, has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.

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