Book Review, Middle Grade Fiction

The Orphans of St Halibut’s by Sophie Wills & illustrated by David Tazzyman

The Orphans of St Halibut’s is a wonderfully dark, Dickensian comedy of errors with chapter after chapter of hilarious, twisted escapades. Eight-year-old Herc, big sister Tig and their friend, Stef (along with Pamela the goat) are the only orphans left at St Halibut’s Home for Waifs and Strays in the dreary town of Sad Sack. When a fortunate library accident leaves their horrible matron dead, the children manage to keep their new-found freedom a secret from the authorities and live with a general happy lack of rules.

In the midst of their “exuberant chaos”, a letter arrives. DEATH (The Department for Education, Assimilation, Training and Health) is coming to inspect the orphanage. The children must come up with a plan to deceive the inspector and avoid being sent to the Mending House for troublesome children.  Can these clever, crafty children pull the wool over the adults’ eyes and hang on to their freedom? Through hilarious mishaps and innocent mischief, Sophie Wills creates a world in which the children certainly don’t need the adults and definitely don’t need mending!

This macabre comedy is enjoyable on so many levels! The matter-of-fact nature of the charming young characters brings a natural comedy to the story. The somewhat gruesome play on words and brilliant description makes each page a joy to read. There are some fantastic baddies who are rumoured to eat children and force them to memorise grammar rules at all hours of the day and night. Despite being an English specialist, I particularly enjoyed the mocking of Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling as well as the DEATH inspectors!

The Orphans of St Halibut’s is a unique take on the Victorian, workhouse, orphan themes that children love to dive into. Readers will thoroughly enjoy it both at home and at school as long as they remember “everything’s fine as long as you add a semi-colon.”

Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Books and NetGalley for this brilliant book!

Click on the cover below to find out more or purchase on-line from Amazon.

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