When a long forgotten basement door is uncovered in the lobby of Jezebel’s apartment building she can’t keep herself from taking a look. What could be down the rickety steps in the damp, cement darkness? A boy actually. And he’s got a message for Jezebel.
“I don’t have much time. But you’ve got to be warned. Keep safe and trust your instincts. Be careful. Be smart. Be afraid. The Dead Gentleman’s coming.” (page 26)
Then he disappears. Like, poof! Gone. Be afraid. Check! The rest? Not so much!
The fact is The Dead Gentleman IS coming. He’s coming to earth to raise up an army of the walking dead. The basement of Jezebel’s hotel is a portal to another planet, the planet where The Dead Gentleman has his starship anchored, preparing to invade earth. Tommy and Jezebel are the earth’s last hope.This is one careening adventure full of mechanical wonders and two smart kids who figure out what it takes to stop The Dead Gentleman and his zombie army. Loved it. Author: Matthew Cody
If you like Tommy and Jezebel try these books that also pair smart kids with interesting mechanical inventions to take on the bad guys. These books are called “steampunk” – that means a story that involves technology or machines before that technology was actually invented. A lot of times the inventions are complicated robots that work with elaborate sets of gears or clockworks.
1. Giuseppe plays his violin for money, but he isn’t allowed to keep the money, he has to give it to his master or he is beaten or thrown in a dark cellar with rats. He is secretly keeping some of the money hoping to escape someday.
2. Frederick is an orphan that is apprenticed to a clockmaker. He is sercretly building an automoton – a kind of mechanical robot – in hopes that he can be licensed and work for himself someday.
3. Hannah works as a maid in a large hotel. Her Dad is sick and she is the only one in the house that can earn any money. She hopes to find a cure for her Dad so she can return to school someday.
The three kids don’t know each other at all when the story starts but are drawn toward each other on their quest for freedom as they unravel the mystery of a missing treasure. Author: Matthew Kirby
The Clockwork Dark series is about Conker and his friend Ray. They live during the time of the American West and in their world, American legends are real people.
Conker is John Henry’s son. John Henry was a legendary railroad worker who defeated a steam powered hammer, man against machine, in a contest. His stories are legends like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan. Ray is a Rambler. Ramblers are like knights or rangers or aurors…their job is to protect the world from evil.
In book #1: The Nine Pound Hammer, Ray and Conker and their friends defeated a demonic machine built by the Gog, a man determined to dominate the world with his evil mechanical inventions.
After the battle Ray and a few friends found refuge in the Smoky Mountains. They don’t know what’s happened to Conker. All they know is that for now, they’re safe, until a sickly traveler stumbles onto the property with a strange tale from a town out West. Before he dies the man tells about his town and the darkness that has taken it over. The darkness turns good people bad and kills anyone who heads toward light. The man bleeds oil…like a machine. Ray knows the darkness and the man’s oily blood has to be the work of the Gog or his evil machine. Ray’s a Rambler, so he sets out to find out what he can do to save his friends, and world. Author: JohnClaude Bemis Series: The Clockwork Dark
Petra made a powerful enemy when she outsmarted Prince Rodolfo in The Kronos Chronicles Book 1: The Cabinet of Wonders. Now she’s in hiding with her Dad and her trusted best friend Astrophil, who happens to be a small mechanical spider; a smart, witty and brave mechanical spider.
Astrophil reminds me of Lyra’s daemon Pantalaimon in The Golden Compass. Astriphil hides in Petra’s clothes or in her hair. He’s like a permanent mentor, always there whispering good advice. He was built by Petra’s Dad, who is a magical inventor. Petra’s Dad uses invisible tools and is able to shape metal animals and give them life.
What makes Astrophil special is that he learns from his experiences. He can read super fast and remembers everything he sees and reads. The longer he is alive, the smarter he gets. Who wouldn’t like a little mechanical computer like that riding around on their shoulder? What a great gift for a Dad to give his daughter!
In this second book, Petra is being pursued by Prince Rodolfo (and those creepy skeleton looking guys on the cover) and is forced into an alliance with John Dee, a magician she doesn’t trust. In the mean time, Petra’s friends Tomik and Neel are despreately trying to find her, while Petra is desprately trying to find her father who has been snatched by Prince Rodolfo. And all of them…Prince Rodolfo, Petra, Tomik, Neel, John Dee…they all want the Celestial Globe – but why? What can it do? A heart racing adventure with sword fighting, wolves, gypsy pirates, an evil Prince, mechanical animals and good friends that will fight for each other until the bitter end. Author: Marie Rutkoski
Here are some more books that have a similar setting as Petra’s story. Mysterious, magical worlds where kids take on evil with their friends, all of whom are not entirely human, yet reliable, steadfast and true friends all the same. Cabinet of Wonders is Book 1, so don’t miss that.
Ray and his sister Sally are on an orphan train in hopes of finding new parents out West. On the train, Ray realizes that Sally would stand a better chance at getting adopted if she didn’t have an older brother – so he jumps off the train to adventure on his own.
Ray has one thing to remind him of the life he used to have, a stone his father gave him. It is a lodestone, a magnetic stone used to make compasses. The stone is acting funny. It seems to be pulling Ray South, so Ray decides to go wherever the lodestone leads.
The stone leads Ray to Cornelius T. Carter’s Mystifying Medicine Show, a sideshow that travels in a steam train from town to town performing tricks and selling medicine oil. The band of performers includes a blind sharpshooter, a snake charmer, a fire-eater, a sword swallower and a strong man. Ray discovers that these performers are more than they first appear. The strong man, Conker, is John Henry’s son. John Henry was a legendary railroad worker who defeated a steam powered hammer, man against machine, in a contest. John Henry won the challenge, but then dropped dead from the effort. His stories are legends like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan.
Ray discovers that John Henry’s legend is actually real and that John Henry didn’t just win a competition, he defeated a demonic machine built by a man (the Gog) who was determined to dominate the world with his evil mechanical inventions. Ray finds out his dad helped John Henry beat the evil machine…but that the Gog and his evil machines are back. It is up to Ray and Conker and their friends to do battle again.
This story draws a lot of characters and personality from tales of the American South, African American Folklore and tales from the frontier West. I liked reading about traveling by steam locomotive. It’s hard for us to imagine now, but back in those days there were trains owned by individual people that traveled all over the country – trains decked out like fancy RVs inside.
The story is science fiction meets the frontier meets steampunk. (Steampunk is a story that involves technology before that technology was actually invented. The evil gunius in this story uses robotic creatures that are built with technology not known in the 1800s.) Ray’s adventure is like Harry Potter because there is an ensemble cast of kids that have inherited the fight from a previous generation.
There are no unicorns or dragons or wizards in this magical story, but magic still, a kind of magic that has its roots in African-American history and the American South called hoo doo. People knowledgeable in hoo doo are called conjurers or root doctors. They make potions from herbs, animals, or items owned by a person. Sometimes, the hoo doo knowledge is what we might call a folk remedy. Hoo doo uses a bit of science and a bit of the spiritual unknown to conjure up its magic. Author: Claude Bemis Series: The Clockwork Dark
There is a really cool book about the song The Ballad of John Henry. The book traces the history of the song and takes a guess at who John Henry really was. This book is called Ain’t Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry. Generally, legends are based on at least a tiny bit of truth and this book shows the historical treasure hunt the author went on to track down the bits of truth in the John Henry story.
The video below is the blues artist John Jackson singing the John Henry song. Blues music came out of African-American communites in the South in the 1800s. Songs included spirituals and work songs and chants. A lot of times the songs told a story in a ballad – John Henry is a ballad and work song.
Continue reading Ray and Conker’s story in The Wolf Tree and The White City. Ain’t Nothing But a Man is the story of John Henry – very interesting with outstanding pictures.: