The Clockwork Three perfect Steampunk intro for middle graders

May 24, 2011 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby; published by Scholastic Press, New York; 2010.

Turn of the century New York City (or so I surmise) was no place for children.  Poverty and its subsequent progeny, crime and violence, were pervasive.  Giuseppe, kidnapped or bought after his parents death in Italy, was brought to the city to play his violin, a busker walking a fine line between a meager food allowance or a beating by his padrone.  Frederick, orphaned and left to work the looms in a factory, was saved to apprentice for the kindly clockmaker, Master Branch.  Hannah, forced to support her parents and little sisters after her father suffers a tragic stroke that leaves him bedridden and in need of constant care.  The three soon cross paths and their destinies become intertwined as they search for a treasure to better their lives.  What they discover is part friendship, part miracle, and part magic.

From the humanistic robot featured on the cover (which made me think of the covers of Ayn Rand’s book for some reason) to the antiqued end pages featuring intermeshed gears, I knew this book would be Steampunk.  There is a definite historical setting, perhaps as the Industrial Revolution was picking up steam or into the early 20th century, and elements of the supernatural.  For a debut novel, Kirby has woven a story that captivates, educates and entertains.  I was enchanted.

My daughter picked this up at a book fair because the cover, and the jacket summary, reminded her of her favorite book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Indeed, after reading both, I see the similarities.  Middle grade readers who are enamored with Brian Selznick’s 2008 Caldecott Medal winner will likely enjoy this book (although The Clockwork Three is significantly wordier than Selznick’s moving-pictures book).  I enjoyed the combination of history and magic and consider this a good introduction to the Steampunk genre for children in grades 4-7.  Given it’s heft, younger readers will have to be avid bibliophiles to get past the first three chapters as they drag a bit introducing each main character and the setting.

I’d add it to lists of Steampunk novels even though it’s intended for middle grade readers; it’s story is interesting enough for younger teens to enjoy.  Certainly, librarians will want to add this to a list of read-alikes with Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  With the film adaptation of Selznick’s book (starring Johnny Depp, no less) due out this November, library displays should expand interest in the automatons by including The Clockwork Three in any tie-in to the movie release.

You can follow the author on his blog ( to read more about this book and what’s in the works for him.


Entry filed under: Children's Chapter Book. Tags: , , , , , .

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