Review: How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks

Title: How to Catch a Bogle

Author: Catherine Jinks

Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books

Expected Publication Date: September 2013        

ISBN13:  9780544087088    

Recommended for grades 4 and up.

Note:  An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

— Traditional Scottish Prayer

It’s Victorian England . . . and in the shadows and forgotten corners lurk ghastly creatures that would be only too happy to make a youngster into a tasty snack.  These dark things prey on helpless and alone,  and it’s only thanks to people like Alfred the bogler and his apprentice Birdie McAdam that  these monsters are dealt with.  While ten year-old  Birdie’s role of playing bait for monsters is dangerous, she figures she has it better than many of London’s poorest orphans, and she’s not going to give up her job and her livelihood just because of the danger.  When orphans around the city start disappearing mysteriously, Birdie suspects a bogle is to blame and decides to investigate.  Despite her skills, her pluck and her allies, this time she may have bit off more than she can chew!

There have been quite a few Victorian books for children lately.  Maybe it’s something in the air?   This is the fourth Victorian middle grade novel this year, and one of two dealing with disappearing mudlarks.  However, I can safely say that Catherine Jinks’ newest book is at the top of the Victorian heap!  With delightfully spirited characters, snappy pacing, and a superb urban fantasy adventure plot this book hits all the right notes.

Readers are immediately pulled into Birdie’s world and life, and brought along for the ride as this spirited heroine plunges ahead.  While our protagonist may be dealing with poverty and squalor, she takes her position in life in stride and faces the world as it comes. Birdie is close to fearless and smart as a whip, though also prone to making mistakes here and there.  She’s not at all shy about speaking her mind and half the fun of reading this is to see how Birdie responds to the world around her.

The Victorian setting is vivid, but the author avoids overwhelming the reader with too much historical detail of the setting in one go.  This allows this story to work for a larger range of readers, and will likely be enjoyed by youngsters who have not yet heard of Victorian London and are taking their first trip into that time frame.  Readers will quickly see the established class distinctions, the extreme poverty and grime of the streets, and understand why Birdie loathes the idea of ending up in a workhouse.  And while the setting is essential to the nature of this story, it still runs secondary to the actual adventure itself.

The nefarious bogles that Birdie and her mentor destroy are scary beasties indeed,  many of them gross and toxic to to encounter at all.  We get the feeling of something alien and inimical to the urban environment where they’ve found pockets of shadow and neglect to hide in.  They are convincing monsters without being the cliched bogeymen readers might encounter elsewhere.  Catherine Jinks does a great job of crafting her monsters–both human and nonhuman–to be convincing and chilling.  There are deaths in the story, and it reinforces the serious threat these monsters present to our protagonists.  Despite the fearful bogles, some grim events and gross descriptions, what stood out most in this story was that it remained a lively adventure with a most appealing cast of characters.

I can only hope we will see Birdie’s adventures continue!

Readers who loved the Victorian horror and fantasy of Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick 2012) will likely enjoy this adventure.

^_^ Happy Reading!

Update: September 20th, 2013

Check out the fantastic book trailer for this 

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on May 24, 2013, in General Posts, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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