Illustrations by Ben Whitehouse
Release Date: April 12th 2016 by Walden Pond Press
Genre: MG Adventure
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review via a Giveaway hosted at Unleashing Readers
Opening Line Chapter 1: "Once upon a time there was a boy who made coffins."
John and Page Coggin, live with their Great-Aunt Beauregard in the town of Pludgett, ever since their parents died. Great-Aunt Beauregard runs the family coffin making business, making them the "Supreme Craftsmen of Death." John has labored for years building the coffins, while his younger sister Page went to school. At night, he would tell her stories about their parents or make up these characters that go on wild adventures. John also loved to tinker, and was quite imaginative, hoping one day to have an invention that would ensure he and his sister could leave the family coffin business behind. If they don't get away soon, John worries what Great-Aunt Beauregard has planned for their future. When Great-Aunt Beauregard does finally announce her plan, it's much worse then John feared, she want's to make John the heir to the casket business and have Page join them as the beautician to the deceased. John can't stand by while his Great-Aunt forces his sister into the family business, so the two decide it's time for them to runaway. One of the first people they meet is Boz, who offers them employment with the Wandering Wayfares, a circus that Boz has a history with. At first, things are working out for the siblings, but when one of John's inventions goes horribly awry, they are off once again, this time trying to escape the clutches of Great-Aunt Beauregard. Will they find a safe place to live at the bakery, or at an ancient dig site? Or will John just have to give in and sign Great-Aunt Beauregard's contract when she captures and threaten's his sister?
For six years, John's creativity has been stifled being "ensconced in sawdust," so it's easy to see why he works so hard to earn the acceptance of the people he meets along the way (Maria and Miss Doyle) by building various contraptions to make things easier, faster or more economical. Often things went horribly wrong with his inventions, yet despite his failures, his friends that he makes encourage him to keep trying. John is most successful when he works with others on his inventions, I think there is a valuable lesson in here about accepting help. I felt like John's character grew from being pretty indecisive and meek to having more confidence and willing to stand up for his friends and family. He also learned to keep trying. His sister Page was also a wonderful character, in the way that she supported John, but also when she refused to separate from him, she could have stayed with any of the people they met, but she had confidence that he would come up with a plan. The major appeal of the story though for me was Boz, he was such a hoot, with his extraordinary vocabulary and use of large words. I particularly enjoyed the word combinations he made to take a simple idea and make it much more complex. For example, when he asks John the question, "Where are the foundations of your perambulation?" (AKA shoes.) Something about those word choices just tickles me. He does this throughout the book and adds much of the lighter moments to the story. As an adult, I appreciated them, my kiddo, probably not so much. A dictionary might have been necessary to decipher what he is saying, but he was just so amusing to listen to. I also enjoyed that Boz was flawed, in that he ran away when things got dicey, but when it really mattered, he stepped up and comes to John's aid. Great-Aunt Beauregard reminded me of Snidely Whiplash from the Dudley Do-Right cartoon on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, a little more comedic then villainous. Overall, I quite enjoyed The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin. As a side note, there are wonderful suggestions for using this book as a vocabulary activity at Unleashing Readers, where I also found this link to the educational activity kit based on the book created by Walden Pond Press.
|Cover & illustrations by Ben Whitehouse