Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 9 to 12
- Grade: 4 to 7
With its spirit of adventure, Bookweirder courts new readers and keeps Malcolm and Norman's devoted fans captivated.
Norman Jespers-Vilnius is stuck in the sleepy British countryside with his parents and ultra-irritating sister. Things couldn't be duller — until Norman finds himself in the middle of the adventure story he discovered in the house's dusty library. Soon Norman is making strange new allies and stranger new enemies as struggles to rescue his best friend Malcolm the Prince of Stoats from another book gone wrong. Can Norman save Malcolm and steer the novel back on track? Can he hide his adventures in bookweird from his suspicious mother and the meddlesome Fuchs? Before we find out, we follow Norman on a chilling trip to 19th-century Paris, a fiery medieval adventure and, finally, a mission to discover the family secret at the heart of bookweird.
About the author
Paul Glennon vit à Ottawa. Il est l’auteur du roman jeunesse Bookweird (Doubleday, 2008) et du recueil de nouvelles How Did You Sleep? (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2000) qui a été finaliste au Prix du livre d’Ottawa dans la catégorie « fiction de langue anglaise » en 2001 et finaliste au prix ReLit Award for Short Fiction la même année. The Dodecahedron, publié par The Porcupine’s Quill en 2005, a quant à lui été finaliste du Prix littéraire du Gouverneur général dans la catégorie « romans et nouvelles de langue anglaise » en 2006 et a été classé parmi les « 100 meilleurs livres de 2006 » par le quotidien The Globe and Mail.
- Winner, Sunburst Award
Excerpt: Bookweirder (by (author) Paul Glennon)
Norman had imagined that this summer in England would be a great adventure. He had expected fortresses and Roman ruins. Norman’s England was the England of knights and castles, battles and conspiracies. That’s what you got for reading books. The real England was altogether different, more like one long museum trip. He had stopped getting his hopes up every time the family piled into the tiny car and set out on one of their excursions—one more church, one more cemetery, or worse, like today, one more stately home.
At least this one was close. The drive had been less than an hour. Norman stood on the balcony of the hall’s second storey looking out at the grey sky and the rain. His mother, torn reluctantly from gilt-framed paintings and the ornate furniture of the roped-off room behind them, stood at Norman’s side and pointed out what could be seen from this high vantage point on the hill.
“We’re actually not far from our house. That over there is Summerside.” Meg Jespers-Vilnius pointed to a smudge of brown in the green countryside. “The Shrubberies is just behind that bit of dark woods there. If you could walk it in a straight line, you’d probably be home in twenty minutes.”
“I wish.” Norman dropped his chin to rest on the stone balustrade and stared out sullenly at the gathering clouds. The Shrubberies was their home for the summer. The English were weird about many things, like naming their houses.
“Don’t be like that,” his mother admonished. “Try to find something that captures your imagination. It’s not every summer you spend in England.”
Norman might have had a smartass answer for that, too, but his eyes had dropped to the back lawn and settled on a pile of grey stones and moss.
“Is that. . . “” he began breathlessly. His voice trailed off, unwilling to finish the question.
“Yes, you remember—it’s called a folly,” Meg replied, gratified that something had caught the boy’s imagination. “Some sort of half-ruined chapel or something. You remember the tour guide at the other place told us that they built them like that, fake ruins. It’s like a garden decoration, an eighteenth-century aristocrat’s version of a garden gnome.”
This wasn’t the first folly Norman had seen on their summer tour. In Cheshire he’d seen a pyramid the size of a garden shed. In Derbyshire there’d been a miniature Greek temple and fake castle ruin. But this one was different. This one Norman had seen before.
“We’ll get a closer look when we do the garden tour,” his mother promised, and she returned to the dark room inside.
Norman was never going to wait that long. While his mother and father studied the paintings and the furniture intently, he slipped back down the stairs and scraped through the low hedge onto the lawn.
From the lawn, the folly was even more real. It brought everything back, everything he wanted to remember and could not believe was true. He had seen this ruined church before. He had been inside it. He had ducked through the arched doorway. He had steadied himself on these rough, worn columns. He had even rested his head on the soft moss carpet that covered the cracked slate floor. Or at least, he had dreamed it. But if it was here now, didn’t that mean it wasn’t a dream after all?
He didn’t recall crossing the wet lawn or passing any fence. He didn’t recall opening any gate that said “Off Limits to Visitors.” He just found himself inside the church, dry and out of the rain. It was like being back in Undergrowth again, back in the ruined church at Tintern outside the village of Edgeweir, a place inhabited by badgers, foxes, hares and stoats. Here in the folly it all felt true again. In Undergrowth he had fallen asleep under the arches of this ruined church. That strange fox abbot had sheltered him here.
Norman lay down on the moss inside the folly and stared up at the rafters. The church at Tintern Abbey had been built by foxes, but they had never completed it. A war with some other animal kingdom had stopped the construction. Its roof had half caved in. Norman stared up at the clouds that moved across the hole now. One hand reached out to touch the curtain of dark green ivy that covered the wall, while the other felt the thick carpet of moss that covered the flagstone floor. A tingle went up his spine as he touched it. This was exactly how it had felt last time.
But that was just a story. Undergrowth was a place in books. In real life foxes didn’t build churches. Norman had been obsessed with the Undergrowth series, especially that book about Malcolm—The Brothers of Lochwarren. He’d lived and died by the fortunes of the stoat princes of Undergrowth. It had once seemed so real to him, as real as this.
Norman used to imagine that he lived in Undergrowth, and that his best friend was Malcolm, a young stoat prince. Together they had fought and defeated an evil wolf empire to restore the stoats’ highland kingdom. That was when he was a kid, almost a year ago. When he was younger he used to confuse fantasy with reality. He’d imagined a magical force called the bookweird that could put you inside a book you loved. For the longest time, Norman would “remember” having been there. He didn’t think about it as much anymore. Norman had run out of Undergrowth books to read, and the bookweird seemed more and more impossible. He was pretty much convinced he’d imagined it all.
Inside the folly again, it all rushed back to him. How could it not be real if he remembered it so vividly? How could his friend Malcolm have been imaginary? You can forget a lot of things that happen to you, or start to believe that you just imagined them, but you can’t forget a really true friendship, and Norman would always remember his brave friend Malcolm.
As he lay there on the grass, he could imagine the feel of Malcolm sleeping next to him. He was a tiny creature. He’d often slept in the crook of Norman’s arm, especially when they’d first met and the little stoat was recovering from his battle wounds. The stoat’s slender rib cage would rise and fall with each breath. Sometimes he’d smack his chops and lick his little white fangs while he slept, as if he was eating some dreamed-of delicacy. Norman had saved the tiny creature’s life, and had sworn to protect him. It made it all the more amazing when you saw him fit and well, fearlessly brandishing his needle-like sword in the face of an enormous wolf.
Norman’s thoughts continued to drift to those days. He was struggling to stay in the dream, to keep himself imagining the little stoat there in the crook of his arm, but once you start trying, you’re already falling out of the dream.
It would have been easier if he’d been alone. The other voices were distracting him.
“No, Ambrose, it is not safe,” one stern voice was saying.
“But, Brother Timothy, since the days of the pilgrimage we have celebrated St. Peter’s Eve here at the abbey.”
“It isn’t safe anymore, not with all the two-footers about these days.”
“Not at night. The two-footers stay away at night. Please, Brother Timothy, the whole warren is looking forward to it.”
Another, more familiar voice disrupted this strange conversation.
“Have you any idea how long we’ve been looking for you?” It was his dad’s voice.
Norman was speechless. He really had no idea how long he’d lain there on the moss. It didn’t seem that long. Maybe he had fallen sleep. He stared at the two silhouettes framed by the arched back doorway of the church. They looked for all the world like rabbits, but they wore hooded cloaks. One leaned on a crooked stick, but both were perfectly still.
“Norman, get up. You’re not supposed to be in there.” His father’s voice called him again from the other direction.
Norman turned and met his father’s eye. His father sighed and shook his head wearily. Norman tried to look contrite and started to rise to his feet. When he glanced back towards the doorway the rabbit silhouettes had vanished.
“You can’t just disappear like that. You have to tell us where you’re going,” his father lectured, exasperated, as they trod back towards the main house. “We had the staff looking through the hedge maze for nearly an hour. You’re lucky that your mother remembered your thing for follies.”
The lecture continued in the car on the way home. Norman hardly heard a word of it. Even his little sister, Dora, in the back seat next to him, was ignorable. He turned away from her smug face and leaned his head against the car window and watched the woods wind by. There could be talking animals in these woods, he thought. This could just as easily be Undergrowth. Out there beyond the hedgerows and the stone fences, who knew what was hiding? A ridge of gloomy clouds moved across the sky, casting dark shadows on the green hills, making the dark woods even darker. Who am I kidding? he asked himself. I’m just a stupid kid who imagines stupid things. It is hard to want something and know that what you want is impossible.
The rented car rolled slowly onto the gravel driveway in front of the Shrubberies. Norman didn’t think of it as home yet. It was still like living in someone else’s house. It was somebody else’s house. It had been his grandparents’ house. Uncle Kit, his mom’s brother, lived there normally, but he was away. It was the first of many disappointments of the summer. Norman had been looking forward to meeting his uncle Kit. He sounded cool. When Norman was ten, Uncle Kit had sent him a wavy dagger called a kris. He’d had it for only a few minutes before his mom had confiscated it. She’d let him keep the blowgun that Uncle Kit had sent last year, but she’d taken away the darts.
Norman’s mom didn’t have anything good to say about her brother. When Norman asked about him, she usually just rolled her eyes or sighed. The two had grown up here in this house. It was Kit’s now, but Norman’s mom still called it home.
As soon as the car came to a stop Dora leapt out and scrambled across the gravel driveway to the thick-planked door of their temporary home. She waited impatiently for the door to be opened, then dashed upstairs to her room. She’d be going to her new friend Penny’s for the afternoon, Norman guessed. Back home, the prospect of having his sister out of the way would have cheered him up, but somehow today it bugged him.
It annoyed Norman even more when he was forced to stay downstairs and help make lunch. Just because he had no one to hang out with shouldn’t mean that he got extra chores. Setting the table and slicing cheese for sandwiches might have been the equivalent to ten years’ hard labour.
Dora clattered down the stairs in her new riding pants and borrowed riding boots. “Can we go right now, Mom?” she asked breathlessly.
Meg shook her head, but not angrily. “Lunch first.”
Dora plonked herself down at the dining table and waited to be served.
“We’re heading into town this afternoon, Norman. Would you like to come?” his mother asked as she handed him a plate of sandwiches.
Norman grabbed a sandwich for himself before placing the plate on the table, just a little beyond Dora’s reach. She grimaced at him but didn’t give him the satisfaction of complaining. She stood up to slide the plate back towards her and ignored him.
“What are you doing in town?” Norman asked warily. There wasn’t much to choose from—another day hanging out doing nothing at the house or a trip into town with his mother. He knew by now that going into town was no great adventure.
“I have some contracts to send back home,” his mother replied. “Then there are a few things we should pick up.”
“Can we get a PSP?” Norman asked half-heartedly.
His mother’s bemused smile was answer enough.
“There’s nothing to do,” Norman complained. “Do you think we could get my computer couriered here?”
His father, Edward, was putting the finishing touches on a pot of coffee. There was no coffee machine in the summer house, and the coffee had to be made by hand in a stove-top coffee maker. It seemed to be a lot of work to make a drink, but Norman had seen Edward Vilnius go without coffee and he wasn’t going to argue with the effort.
“If we are doing that, Meg,” Edward asked, “can we also get our espresso machine sent over?”
Meg Jespers-Vilnius rolled her eyes. “Are you all out of books again?” she asked Norman.
“I’m rereading The Manacle of Munster,” he answered as he piled clotted cream and jam onto a scone.
“Have you looked through the library here?”
“There’s nothing good.”
His mother smirked. It was true, though. Norman had looked. The novels were all pretty lame.
“Is Dora going with you?” he asked. It could be the deciding factor between car boredom and house boredom.
“She’s going to Penny’s for the afternoon.”
Just as Norman had predicted. Dora had made a friend on the first afternoon they’d been here—a friend with a stable of ponies, too. Dora was in heaven. She and Penny rode almost every day. Norman didn’t want to admit it, but he sometimes wished his little sister were around more. He might have been able to convince her to go exploring or play some games. That’s how bored he was.
“Penny says that I was born to ride Dandy,” Dora bragged. “He’s very naughty with other girls, but he’s brilliant with me.” Recently Dora had begun to use these British words and phrases that she’d picked up from her friend Penny. Everything was now “brilliant” and “super.” If Norman had been paying attention, he would have taken time to make fun of Dora’s fake British accent, but he was busy with his own thoughts.
“Dad, is there a particular reason that animals can’t talk?” He was thinking about the rabbits he’d imagined seeing back in the folly, and in a sideways way about Undergrowth.
Edward Vilnius nearly spat out a mouthful of coffee, but he managed to stifle the laugh. “Is this a commentary on your sister or the horse?”
“Uh!” Dora cried shrilly, exaggeratedly offended. Her father winked at her.
Norman pressed on. “I mean, is there a physical reason they can’t talk—like their mouths can’t make the sounds?”
“Almost all animals communicate in some sort of language,” Norman’s mother pointed out. “Whales have huge repertoires of songs, for example.”
“No,” Norman elaborated, “I mean, could they speak a human language, like English?”
“Well, parrots can be taught to mimic human language. Is that what you mean?” his father asked.
“I guess so.” Norman didn’t know why he’d bothered asking. It wasn’t like he could explain it.
“Is there a particular animal you are thinking of? Are you thinking of having a conversation with this horse, Dandy, to ask him what the trick is to getting along with your sister?” his mother asked.
“What about a rabbit?”
“That’s an interesting one—talking rabbits,” his father mused, putting his coffee down and pulling up a chair. “Lots of talking rabbits in literature, you know—Alice in Wonderland, Watership Down, those horrible Beatrix Potter books. I wonder what that’s all about.” Edward pondered this for a while. “Might be worth a paper on the subject: “Talking Rabbits in English Literature.” You think the department would like that, Meg?”
Meg Jespers-Vilnius had made a career out of motivational speaking, but even she couldn’t quite sound convincing when she replied, “I think that’s a brilliant topic for a paper. You’ll be the star of the English Department.”
Edward Vilnius smiled like a man who was used to being mocked.
“Right, are you coming, Norman?” Meg asked.
Norman contorted his face as if this was a difficult question. “Can I use your laptop when you’re gone?”
“Yes,” she agreed patiently, “just be careful with it.”
Praise for Bookweird:
"Brilliant . . . . The book's oddities, its strange sense of play, also come with an emphasis on heroism and a dash of paradox. What a delicious concept Bookweird is, and what a fantastic writer we have in Paul Glennon."
— Globe and Mail
"Boys have trouble finding anything they care about between the covers of a book. Ottawa author Paul Glennon has a solution. Give 'em books filled with boy appeal--blood, guts and glory. . . . Glennon does a fine job in keeping the story moving, and he's terrific at family dynamics."
— The Ottawa Citizen