Wednesday, April 20, 2016

2017 Contenders: The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin, by Elinor Teele

Illustration by Ben Whitehouse 
As our regular readers know, we at For Those About To Mock have dedicated this year to reviews of past Newbery winners. However, the good folks at Walden Pond Press sent me a copy of The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin, and asked if we'd be willing to be part of the blog tour for the book's release. Now, WPP just happens to be one of my very favorite imprints; not only have they published a number of books we've loved over the past few years (Neversink, The Real Boy, The Fellowship for Alien Detection), but they're also responsible for printing my personal favorite children's book of all time, full stop (Breadcrumbs). As such, there wasn't really any question as to whether or not we'd agree to contribute to the blog tour!

Mechanical Mind opens in the dreary, miserable city of Pludgett, where eleven-year-old John Coggin crafts caskets for Coggin Family Coffins, under the overbearing watch of his Great-Aunt Beauregard. John is a talented coffin-maker, but he hates the work; he would much prefer to spend his time turning his ideas for inventions into reality. When Great-Aunt Beauregard attempts to force John to sign a contract that would not only bind him to the business for the next two decades, but also compel his younger sister Page to work as an undertaker, John finally reaches his breaking point. With the help of Boz, a circus performer of sesquipedalian speech patterns and questionable reliability, John and Page run away -- although Great-Aunt Beauregard is hot on the trio's trail.

The story of John and Page's resulting adventures reminded me of Roald Dahl, Daniel Pinkwater, and even the Mr. Toad portions of The Wind in the Willows. (Let's just say that John doesn't have much more luck with motorcars than that estimable amphibian.) The supporting cast is made up of highly-entertaining characters; my favorite was Miss Doyle, a sort of middle-aged, reptilian-looking version of Lara Croft. However, holding the whole thing together are John and Page, two children who come across as eminently authentic and believable. I appreciated the fact that John isn't some kind of Matilda-level prodigy, but rather a smart kid who still has a lot to learn, and who shows real growth over the course of the book. And I loved the relationship between the siblings -- sometimes strained, sometimes frustrated, but always full of genuine affection and loyalty.

Given that the only solid prediction I made last year was that no picture book would win the Newbery, I'm not even going to try and prognosticate this year's winner. I will, however, say that Mechanical Mind excels in setting and characterization (particularly of John and Page), and that I'd love to be a fly on the wall if the Newbery committee chooses to discuss it. I'd certainly recommend the novel for anyone who likes a fast-paced, humorous adventure story with heart.

Published in April by Walden Pond Press / HarperCollins

If you're interested in knowing what other folks are saying about The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin, check out the other stops on the blog tour!

Illustration by Ben Whitehouse
April 12 - Novel Novice
April 13 – This Kid Reviews Books
April 14 - Maria's Melange
April 15 - Unleashing Readers
April 18 - Next Best Book 
April 19 - Foodie Bibliophile
April 21Walden Media Tumblr
April 22 - Charlotte's Library
April 25Flashlight Reader
April 26 - Teach Mentor Texts
April 27 - Librarian's Quest
April 28 - Kid Lit Frenzy
April 29 - Novel Novice

No comments:

Post a Comment