When Eddie Dickens is 11 years old, his parents come down with a dreadful disease that makes them “turn yellow, go a bit crinkly around the edges, and smell of old hot-water bottles.” To keep Eddie from catching it, his parents send him off to live with Mad Uncle Jack (who pays his bills with dried fish) and Even Madder Aunt Maude (who carries with her everywhere a stuffed stoat named Malcolm), at their house called Awful End. Along the way, Eddie is mistaken for a runaway orphan boy, and carried off to St Horrid’s Home for Grateful Orphans (motto: “Work Hard. Get Very Dirty. Be Very Unhappy”). Will Eddie get out of the orphanage? Will he make it to Awful End? Will his parents recover? Will he engineer an escape for all the orphans riding inside a giant four-wheeled cow? You will have to read the book to find out!
Eddie is the only sane person among a cast of crazies in this very funny, absurd, and clever series. The stories are set “in England sometime during the reign of Queen Victoria (who sat on the throne for more than sixty-three years so let’s hope she had a cushion…),” and the humor and some of the vocabularly are distinctly British. Even so, good readers will enjoy the witty use of language and shouldn’t have any trouble following the story.
If you’re a fan of the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events books, you will probably love The Eddie Dickens Trilogy. Ardagh writes with a similar rambling style, with clever wordplay and author comments along the way. If you did NOT like Unfortunate Events because the stories seemed to go on forever and never reach a conclusion, let alone a happy ending [yes, I’m raising my hand], you’ll be glad to know that Ardagh is much more cheerful than Snicket, and, eventually, everyone lives “happily ever after”.
The story continues in two more volumes:
And though they’re not in our library system, a second series tells the Further Adventures of Eddie Dickens:
If you, like me, love Ardagh’s style, you’ll also want to read his Unlikely Exploits Trilogy. This series is a bit more macabre: it opens with “The very last words young Fergal McNally heard in his life were: ‘Don’t lean out of that window!'” The impoverished McNally children experience all sorts of terrible setbacks as they gradually discover their unlikely powers — but there is eventually a happy ending! If you can handle books with a brain in a jar, a creepy evil teddy-bear clutching mad scientist, and a dead character who ends up in a dog’s body, check these out:
- The Fall of Fergal: or, Not so Dingly in the Dell
- Heir of Mystery: or, Four Legs Good
- The Rise of the House of McNally: or, About Time Too