Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows by Denis Knight & Cristy Burne
This book was part of the Notable list for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Awards – Younger Readers.
Wednesday Weeks never wanted to be a sorcerer’s apprentice. She’d rather study science than magic. But when her cloak-wearing, staff-wielding grandpa is captured by a power-hungry goblin king, Wednesday must find a way to embrace her magical heritage and rescue him from the dreaded Tower of Shadows. Luckily, she’s not alone. Her best friend Alfie is a prime-number fan and robotics expert who’s all-in on Wednesday’s epic plan involving parallel universes, swords of power, and a wise-cracking talking skull. But it’s going to take more than science, magic, and the world’s cutest robot to take down this bad guy. Because the goblin king is playing for the ultimate prize – and Wednesday and Alfie just walked into his trap…
“Apparently, other people’s grandpas bring them sweets and read them stories. Mine drags me through the Nine Realms of space and time because a sword told him I’m destined to save the universe. Go figure, right?”
Wednesday Weeks is just trying to pass robotics without accidentally randomly setting things on fire, when her weird magic grandpa shows up, makes her jump through a black void, and sucks her and her brainy best mate Alfie into a wild adventure involving waist-deep slugs, a wise-cracking skull, a faery called Captain Schnooky, a hungry kraken made of laundry, and a good dose of magic mixed with science.
This book is a non-stop middle grade fantasy joyride from start to finish. It’s like Percy Jackson meets Indiana Jones but with STEM. It’s like a kid’s coding app and an escape room had a baby and that baby was a book.
Wednesday and Alfie solve their problems along the way with maths, coding, robotics, and even kindness, all in the quest to save Wednesday’s enigmatic grandpa.
“I roll my eyes. ‘It’s not magic, Grandpa. It’s science.’
‘Nonsense.’ Grandpa shakes his head. ‘I’m sure there’s a perfectly rational explanation. Something in his horoscope, perhaps.'”
The first-person narrative voice of Year 6er Wednesday is zippy, fun and irreverent, and a great sense of wry humour pervades the storytelling. Madcap, imaginative and amusing situations abound, and the friendships carry just the right amount of depth for this type and level of story.
This is a book that is truly aimed at its target audience – i.e. 8-12 year olds – and I love that. It doesn’t try to be sophisticated or straddle some kind of “for kids but kind of also for adults” middle ground like some books do. It is unapologetically a children’s novel and having a 10 year old myself, I found it really refreshing to read about kids this age acting like kids this age, in a way kids this age will enjoy.
This would be a great bridging step between Ahn Do and similar books for younger readers, and more mature middle grade books like Percy Jackson.
Here finally we have a kid’s fantasy that is age appropriate, Australian based, incorporates STEM concepts, has a female main character with an Indian boy bestie… oh and Bruce the talking skull, of course! I think this is a really welcome addition to the middle grade landscape and I think the target audience will devour it. Luckily it’s a series, so plenty more wild science-magicy fun to come!