Thursday Tales: The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade
July 1, 2010 in Book Club Possibility, High School Teachers, Journal Writing, Middle School Teachers, Slade Arthur, Writing Skills, Young Adult Novels Tags: Arthur Slade, Steampunk adventure, The Hunchback Assignments, Victorian London, Young Adult Mystery
*Young adult (tween) book, set in Steampunk Victorian London, sort-of a mystery
*Young hunchback as main character
*Rating: The Hunchback Assignments is a fascinating book with two lovable main characters, a fascinating setting, and evil villains who may keep you up at night!
Short, short summary: Modo, a young hunchback, is rescued by Mr. Socrates when he’s a baby from a traveling freak show. He is raised in isolation and as an agent for the Permanent Association, a secret spy agency that is protecting Great Britain behind the scenes. Modo has the remarkable ability to change his face features to resemble anyone else, and this is how he is able to go in public in spite of his disfigurement. (Sometimes, he also wears a mask.) When he’s 14, Mr. Socrates sets him out in London on his own and hopes his training has taught him to be resourceful enough to survive on his own. He soon is visited by another agent (although he doesn’t know it at the time) named Octavia Milkweed, who is a spunky, former street urchin turned spy. They start investigating the Clockwork Guild and the disappearance of several street children. Octavia and Modo soon discover the Guild is also altering the minds of the sons of prominent government officials, including Prince Albert, and they realize the horrific plans that the Guild is using the children for. As the jacket cover states, “Modo teams up with another young agent, Octavia Milkweed, for an assignment that takes them from the Tower of London to a terrifying world deep beneath the city.”
So, what do I do with this book?
1. Tweens/young teens can most likely really relate to the self-image problems Modo has in this book. Although we have very few hunchbacks walking around, most teens dislike something about themselves and worry about their self-image. You can discuss with teens or ask them to journal how Modo deals with society, about how he hides behind a mask or his remarkable ability to change himself, and how they think he feels. Then they can relate this to themselves (this would most likely be better for a journal assignment or a small group discussion rather than a large class discussion).
2. Arthur Slade gives clues throughout the book about what the Clockwork Guild is doing with the street children and young men. From the potion the men and children drink to the bolts in their shoulders, readers can try to figure out what exactly is going on–although the end result of the Clockwork Guild’s experiments is almost unbelievable. Anyway, readers can make predictions based on clues as to the devious plans throughout the novel. Solve the mystery before Modo and Octavia!
3. Steampunk means that the book is set in the past, but technology is included that wasn’t actually invented back then. Think League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. So, ask teens to dissect the setting–which parts are Victorian London? Which parts are Steampunk? How do the two parts work together to create this fascinating setting?