Skary Childrin and the
Carousel of Sorrow
By: Katy Towell
Published By: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 978-0-575-86859-7

5 Stars

Welcome to the dreary town of Widowsbury, and the home to three delightfully unique and twisted (if not particularly “skary”) children–or “childrin,” as the youngest one, nine-year-old Beatrice Alfred writes it. She is smarter than most girls even two years older than she is, but she is an atrocious speller. Beatrice likes to–well–talk to the ghosts of dead animals, especially a ghost mouse that she keeps in her pocket. Maggie Borland is abnormally strong, and some kids have given her the cruel nickname “Franken-Mag.” And, last but definitely not least, is Adelaide Foss, who has a very keen sense of hearing, and who some say has “an uncanny resemblance to a werewolf.”

The three “skary childrin” stick out like sore thumbs at Madame Gertrude’s School for Girls. Because of their unusualness and the fact that their headmistress, Mrs. Merryweather, has it in for them, the three are forced to spend almost every recess in detention in the school’s library. It doesn’t matter that the girls don’t generally seem to do anything that actually warrants them getting detentions; Mrs. Merryweather keeps them on more or less permanent detention just because she can.

Widowsbury is a most peculiar town, a place that just hasn’t been the same since a mysterious storm blew in twelve years ago. It ripped through the town for twelve straight days, opening up a gate between worlds. After the storm, there were such things as vampires, werewolves, ghosts and mad scientists who reanimated the dead. The townspeople became understandably suspicious about any strangers who came to Widowsbury. Though fewer in frequency, strange things still happen in Widowsbury, like evil rusty carousels that magically come to life and which result in the unfortunate disappearances of some of the townspeople.

And, there is a stranger who comes to Widowsbury who sets up a Candy Time stand and yet does not like to accept payment for his–candy. Why is it that the people who try out his wares often end up to be the ones who mysteriously vanish? What is the link–if any–between him and the disappearance of Miss Delia, the new school librarian? Mrs. Merryweather blames the inordinate amount of librarians who have quit on the three girls’ being malicious and “skary” children; but, what other factors are at work, that she and the rest of the townspeople refuse to recognize?

Miss Delia tries to behave differently towards the three girls than any other teacher or librarian has before, by acting nicely towards them. She treats them as if they were worth being kind to, as if they were her friends. She doesn’t last long at the school, but not because the girls drive her away, but because…of other reasons. Mrs. Merryweather doesn’t like it that Miss Delia wants to be nice to the girls, and when she catches wind of it, she chews Miss Delia out and tells her that she either needs to change her opinion of them or she’d be fired.

When Miss Delia quits, the three girls suspect foul play, and launch an investigation of their own to learn what happened to her. Mrs. Meryweather believes she is just one of many librarians who quit, and she throws Miss Delia’s bag full of her belongings into a trash can. She doesn’t really like Miss Delia, and is not prone to get the police involved; so, the only way to get at the truth, the girls reason, is by discovering what happened to her and the other townspeople on their own.

Another of the many memorable and cool characters in Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow is Steffan Weller, the son of a cook who works at the nearby Rudyard School for Boys, which I’m guessing is named after the author of The Jungle Book (among many other famous works of literature), Rudyard Kipling. He doesn’t actually attend classes, but is still very intelligent, likes to invent things, and–unlike almost all of the other townsfolk of Widowsbury, he is not afraid of strangers. He is often bullied, like the girls, by some of the boys at Rudyard Scool for Boys, but he is one of the only townspeople who befriends the Candy Time candyman, Lyle Zoethout. And, then there’s another sinister-looking stranger who’s arrived in town, who has spindly legs and long, slender fingertips. Could he be the one causing the people of Widowsbury to disappear?

Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow is a brilliantly written cross between the novels of Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl (Matilda, in particular). I look forward to reading more of Katy Towell’s novels in the future. In the meantime, I, like anyone else who needs another “Skary Childrin” fix, can go to the website Childrin R Skary, where she is the writer, illustrator, and sometimes animator. Check out the book today!

–Douglas R. Cobb–