Praise for The Wonderling

Mira Bartók's world of The Wonderling is strikingly complex: sounds, tastes, colors are all described so vividly that the world practically sparkles. The reading experience can be best described in Bartók's own words: entering the world is like "walk[ing] into a rainbow." It is a place of human/animal hybrids (groundlings), steampunk inventions, dark magic and underground cities; a world of bigotry and class warfare where humans are at the top of a complex hierarchy and groundlings hide on the fringes, often living in abject poverty. Manticores, song-catching machines, powerful night crows and crying gargoyles exist in the Wonderling's present, while the likes of Beethoven and Arthur O'Shaugnessy existed in his past. It’s a world that puts the reader constantly off-kilter, featuring a one-eared, fox/human groundling who can understand animals and also comes from a timeline that includes Arthurian legend. It's impossible to grab hold of the familiar while so much remains fantastical--instead the reader is carried by the current of Bartók's prose to places both uncanny and beautiful. To read the rest of the review, go HERE.

KIRKUS (starred review)
A young groundling, or animal hybrid, escapes a horrible orphanage to discover his past. The shy, foxlike groundling known as No. 13 has only the faintest memory of a song and the far-off sounds he can hear with his single furry ear to keep him wondering why he exists. He's imprisoned along with dozens of other unwanted groundlings in a former monastery-turned-grim workhouse where food and comfort are scarce. The seemingly human headmistress has dark secrets, and her assistants are cruel to the orphans. When a clever and resourceful new friend springs Arthur, as she calls No. 13, and herself from the institution, the two embark on an epic journey that will eventually bring them back to free the other orphans. Bartók's language is full of rich description and effulgent inventories of food and places. Her world includes Christmas and Beethoven, along with homes in hollow trees, clockwork beetles, police patrols on flying bicycles, and allusions to ancient magic, both good and evil. Arthur, sweetly innocent throughout his journey, must make his way in Lumentown, where groundlings are at best second-class citizens and High Hats control everything. Arthur's harrowing encounters with cruelty, hunger, and filth are interspersed with gentle humor and kindness. Though the origins of the groundlings are never explored (perhaps saved for the planned sequel), the worldbuilding otherwise has an impressive level of conviction and credibility. Bartók's lovely, detailed illustrations and drawings throughout support the sense of enchantment in this imaginative adventure. Captivating and with great potential as a read-aloud. 

Thirteen, a fox groundling (creatures that are half animal, half human), has spent most of his life in “the Home,” a horrid orphanage/workhouse run by the evil Mrs. Carbunkle. When he saves a bird groundling named Trinket, the two hatch an escape plan, and Trinket renames him Arthur, in honor of the brave medieval king. Once Arthur and Trinket are free from Mrs. Carbunkle, they set off on an adventure that will test Arthur’s destiny as a Wonderling, including his very unusual abilities to understand and speak to animals and to unknowingly sing a haunting song each night as he sleeps. He will have to head ear-first into danger and return to The Home to find out what that destiny holds. Written with clear and detailed descriptions, this novel drops readers into a strange, magical, mythical, and mechanical world. Fantasy fans will be swept along by the mystery and adventure, guessing until the end how the plot and characters connect. Bearing some similarities to Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” with shades of Erin Hunter’s “Warriors” series, Bartók’s title will appeal to readers who appreciate anthropomorphized animal characters, high-stakes adventure, and Dickensian settings. ­VERDICT A stellar new contribution to fantasy that should find a place in every middle grade collection.
–Clare A. Dombrowski, Amesbury Public Library, MA

Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures isn’t much of a home for the orphaned groundlings who reside there. These youngsters—part human, part animal—are treated like slaves and forbidden from any activity approximating fun. Among them is the nameless Number 13, a gentle, one- eared fox with music in his heart, incredible hearing, and a gift for understanding animal languages. When his peppy, inventor friend Trinket devises an escape plan, they flee into the world outside, which proves more dangerous than the one they left behind. This beguiling fiction debut from Bartók (The Memory Palace, 2011) is just the ticket for readers who revel in quest stories, or those with a soft spot for animal fantasies. Bartók carefully constructs her world, gracing it with a classed society, music, and a touch of steampunk. Number 13, later called Arthur after the legendary king, traverses perilous environs and encounters hostile attitudes toward groundlings in his determined search for his destiny. With a movie already underway, this book seems preordained for popularity. Final illustrations unseen.
— Julia Smith 


In her first book for children, Bartók (The Memory Palace) takes readers to a world in which part-human, part-animal groundlings are largely treated with disdain. The story follows a one-eared fox groundling known simply as Number Thirteen, who has spent all of his remembered life at Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, where days are spent toiling silently in a classroom and factory. After Thirteen saves Trinket, a daring bird groundling, from bullies, the two hatch a plan to escape the home. Renamed Arthur by Trinket, the fox groundling seeks to uncover his hazy past but finds his trust and innocence tested in dark and unfriendly places. Bartók doesn’t delve into the origins of groundlings but uses them successfully as a stand-in for other disenfranchised groups, with the groundlings subjected to derision and menial tasks by most of the upper classes. Music plays an important role in the story, both as a means of connection and a force for good. Though somewhat dense and slow moving at times, Bartók gives readers a richly imagined fantasy landscape to lose themselves in.