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Oddfellow's Orphanage by E.W. Martin

Martin, Emily Winfield. Oddfellow's Orphanage. New York: Random House Children’s Books, 2012. Print.

Emily Winfield Martin crafts a whimsical, imaginative read in her debut novel, Oddfellow’s Orphanage, that is sure to delight readers of all ages.

As Delia, the newest member of the Oddfellow’s Orphanage quickly discovers, the members living at the orphanage are anything but ordinary. Under the guidance of Headmaster Oddfellow Bluebeard, her new family includes an onion-headed boy, a blue tattooed girl, a child-sized hedgehog, and a family of three dancing bears. While Delia is unable to speak and must instead write to communicate, she is immediately accepted into her new family. The oddities and peculiarities of each of the children residing at the orphanage are matched in the school classes they take, including Professor Flockheart’s F. T. Studies (fairy tales and folktales) and Professor Silas’ cryptozoology class.

In this rather unorthodox orphanage, the school year passes with one quirky adventure after another. Each bizarre yet entertaining escapade allows the author to develop each character’s personality as well as friendships between the children, endearing the reader to each of the orphans. With Haircut Day, a grand picnic, a fieldtrip to see the Great Comet and an expedition to locate lake M.O.N.S.T.E.R.S. (Mysterious or Nonexistent Subjects Thoroughly Examined Really Scientifically), nothing is ever ordinary at Oddfellow’s Orphanage. While comical and curious, the story, at times, appears to unfold in isolated vignettes, with each chapter a discrete event, making for less-than-smooth plot continuity.

Quite impressively, the author manages to pepper the story with an appropriate amount of bizarre and peculiar elements, never once does the plot appear to be overly outlandish. While the writing itself is sweet and simple with perfectly proportioned chapters, lending itself to a fantastic first reader or a read-aloud story, it is Martin’s illustrations that accentuate the writing and highlight the whimsy found within the pages. The soft, sepia-coloured pencil drawings that appear on nearly every page give off a vintage aesthetic and confer just the right amount of detail to the story, allowing the reader to invent and imagine the rest. With overarching themes of acceptance and perseverance, both girls and boys will fall in love with the charming and unique characters and the impressive illustrations.

Highly recommended for elementary school libraries as well as public libraries.

Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Nicole Dalmer

Nicole Dalmer is a Public Services Librarian at H.T. Coutts Education & Physical Education Library at the University of Alberta. She is interested in health literacy, pinball, and finding the perfect cup of coffee to accompany a good read.