________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 1 . . . . September 6, 2002

cover Horrendo's Curse.

Anna Fienberg. Illustrated by Kim Gamble.
Toronto, Annick Press, 2002.
158 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55037-772-8 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55037-773-6 (cl.).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

*** /4


Horrendo's favorite subject at school was Hiding.

He tried hard at all the other subjects and, because of his strong muscles, he got quite good at Oar Throwing. But if he was told to throw the oar at someone, he fell apart. Anyway, as far as he could see, Hiding was the only subject that had any results.

Take the time those two boys, Vile and Hellhound, escaped capture - it was the year Horrendo started school. The boys had hidden under an overturned rowboat, right next to the ship! None of the pirates had thought a village boy would have the courage or wit to come so close. Vile and Hellhound became legends in their own time, and their cunning and success gave everyone hope.

Still and all, there was no getting around it: the thought of turning twelve was a depressing one. It was like putting brackets around your life or, worse, a period at the end of it. Even Horrendo, who thought it only polite to make the best of things, felt down about it sometimes.

In Horrendo's village, "everyone had sharp faces and tongues like whips, and no one said 'thank you' or 'please' for the villagers lived in a dark world ruled by pernicious pirates and the terrors of the sea." Horrendo is different: put under a curse at birth by the Wise Woman fed up with the obnoxious behavior of everyone else, he must always be polite. He endures the taunts and teasing of his peers, but time is running out. At age 12, all boys in his village are stolen by nasty pirates. Few return. In a familiar "good versus evil" tale, Horrendo hatches a plot to baffle the pirates who capture him. With his pleasant manner and culinary talents, he tempts the crew to mutiny. After the dramatic disposal of the treacherous Captain, the boys and reformed crew return to the village as heroes.

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     With such a large cast of characters, the author cleverly chose to define them by their names: Bombastic, Hoodlum, Demon, Rascal, Rowdy serve as apt descriptions of the boys. The pirate cast includes Dogfish, Squid, Buzzard. Even the boys' pets sport appropriate tags: Putrid, Pest. Horrendo earns the reader's empathy due to his curse (plenty of kids can identify with victimization for being "different"). From the exaggerated contrast between Horrendo and all the other characters, humour and a lesson emerge. What better way to deflate a bully, after all, than to appear unfazed and keep up a cheerful disposition despite the torments.

     Generous dialogue also contributes to the humour. The first couple of chapters are introduced by the author as background storyteller before the viewpoint is handed over to Horrendo for most of the story. The pirates do not enter the scene until Chapter 6, allowing a build-up of suspense and time to establish Horrendo's relationship with the other boys. The time span is a couple of months covering their sea voyage and eventual escape - lots of room for conflict and action scenes of swashbuckling pirates at their nastiest:

"Take that, ya cutthroat hound!
Gerroff, ya grog-faced villain!

Swords clashed so steadily that the sound of ringing metal vibrated in the air like cymbals. Horrendo put his hands over his ears, but somehow it all looked even more frightening without the noise."

     Figurative language abounds: "Waves frilled neatly onto the shore. Behind them a hill furred with trees sang with the chatter of birds and monkeys." At 156 pages and 14 chapters (some quite long), this book will be most accessible to competent readers. Chapter endings that leave the audience eager for the next installment and the chance to play with various character voices make this a good read-aloud.

     Australian author Anna Fienberg is the winner of a number of children's literature awards in that country.


Gillian Richardson, a BC resident, is a former teacher-librarian and a published children's writer of fiction and nonfiction.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364