Sweep (Penguin Random House Canada) is available for $20.19 in hardcover or $10.99 in Kobo from Indigo here. See more titles by Jonathan Auxier here.
Sweep is the third book I’ve read by Canadian-American writer, Jonathan Auxier. It did not disappoint.
Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes was the first book of his I read. I thought the imagery and imagination within those pages would never be surpassed. Then I read The Night Gardener, a dark gothic mystery of two orphans that scared me to my roots. And yes, these books are written for ages 8–12. Aria, my granddaughter who is nine, said it was “awesome.” Kids seem to love the sense of danger and mystery in these stories. They get that this writer writes authentic stories, not Scoobie-Doo adventures.
After the first two books, I raced to obtain Sweep: The story of a Girl and Her Monster. I did not know how to prepare myself for it. I flipped to page three, first line: “There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning.” I was hooked.
This Auxier story begins in a historical, almost Dickensian setting in Victorian London. Nan Sparrow, the young orphan chimney sweep, ekes out a living sweeping chimneys of the wealthy while dodging a host of unsavory characters. Luckily for Nan, she has Sweep, her beloved mentor, to initially teach her the ropes and smooth over the bleakness of poverty and appalling conditions until ... he disappears. Relying on her skills and wits, Nan’s perseverance is rewarded by the emergence of a most unlikely friend, a golem she names “Charlie.” It is Charlie who warms the heart by his questions; such as “Who is Mary Christmas? Do I look on the outside the way I am on the inside?” Charlie is the voice of wonder which balances Nan’s grim reality.
This children’s book is as much about finding a purpose in life as it is about friendship, wonder and deep love. Those sentiments are echoed by many of the amazing characters such as Toby, Miss Bloom, Newt and Shilling-Tom. “We save ourselves by saving others,” says Nan. Does Charlie teach Nan that or has she known all along it was true? Does Nan need saving or is she the savior?
The description of the chimney sweeps’ lives rings authentic. Auxier doesn’t spare the cruelty the children in those times had to endure. But he also shows us their hopes and dreams, making this story one of the most warm-hearted children’s stories I’ve read in a very long time. I shed tears at the end, me, an adult.
Jonathan Auxier won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the Canadian Library Association Book of the year for Children award for his novel, The Night Gardener. If you’re writing for children, his story-telling mastery makes Auxier a must read.
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