Review in 3/15/06 issue of Booklist
Gr. 10-12. Historical and contemporary American racial, economic, and social issues lie at the heart of this witty, sophisticated, candy-colored adventure, set in a utopian island community. Bertha (Birdy) Snodgrass, preadolescent daughter of the town banker, throws in her lot with a shady Chinese Mexican wizard, his golem-like assistant, and, finally, with Louis the slave. Readers with a grasp of pre-Jamestown history will have the easiest time understanding the riffs on Puritanism and the various American hypocrisies woven into this story. Racial and cultural slurs are buried beneath the surface of character interactions, and no ethnic group is spared. That, of course, is the point: to see oneself as a possible victim of prejudice, or, like Birdy, work toward changing things and make friends with people who are different. Teens (especially those enrolled in advanced-placement American history classes) as well as many adults will find a lot to enjoy and think about in this brash, fantastic tale—and they will look forward to other volumes in the planned series.
Review in June 2006 issue of VOYA
5Q/3P. Life is good in the little community on the Island until Mr. Stoop stumbles onto the place and start putting up posters about the slave auction in a nearby port. Everyone wants to have a word with the newcomer, whether to work with him or to drug him and ship him back to the mainland. Little Miss Birdy, daughter of Governor Snodgrass, follows Mr. Stoop back to the mainland and ³buys² Louis John. He talks her into freeing him, and the two sneak out of town. Meanwhile Governor Snodgrass is plotting with Rex Carter, a mad inventor who has created a machine that will be better than any slave. When the machine gets into the wrong hands, wacky hijinks ensue, building up to a climax that has more punch than a drunken weasel.
At first glance, this novel appears to be a cartoony rendition of America in the nineteenth century, but it quickly proves to be chock full of insight into the controversies of the past. The messages are hidden in plain sight as Klein uses his pictures to tell the real story behind all the words of the characters. A zany cast of slaves, ex-slaves, capitalists, opportunists, inventors, and just plain regular folk lead the way through this colorful and delightful tale. It would be a fantastic addition to public and most school libraries.