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Frozen Billy
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Two children are drawn into helping with a ventriloquist s act in this creepy Victorian tale from multi-award-winning author Anne Fine.

About the Author

Anne Fine has been an acknowledged top author in the children's book world since her first book was published in the mid l970s, and has now written more than forty books and won virtually every major award going, including the Carnegie Medal (more than once), the Whitbread Children's Award, the Guardian Children's Fiction Award, the Smarties Prize and others. The Children's Laureate from 2001-2003, Anne is also very funny and young readers love her lack of hypocrisy about the family and her honesty about how people can behave.She lives in the North-East. 'One of the sharpest and most humorous observers of the human condition writing today for the young' School Librarian u> She is translated into 26 languages and has regularly won every major children's literary award in the land, including the Carnegie Medal twice and the Whitbread Children's Novel award twice . . . There are few more influential, or more unfailingly intelligent, authors at work' Scotsman 'A subversively wicked gift for exploring family tensions' Independent

Reviews

Fine's (The Diary of a Killer Cat) macabre Edwardian set piece assembles two down-trodden siblings, their talented ale-swilling ventriloquist uncle and his creepy dummy, Frozen Billy. Clarissa narrates the increasingly dire circumstances she and her brother, Will, face. While in Ireland for Grandmother's funeral, their mother is wrongly imprisoned. Their father, meanwhile, is in Australia forging a livelihood and an eventual home for the family. With Uncle Len nominally child-sitting (drinking and betting away his pay), the pair quits school to work. Clarrie assumes her mother's job at a fabric shop and Will, displaying a talent for mimicry and improvisation, joins Uncle Len's act in the Alhambra variety show. Toil and worry extract their toll. Will begins to disassociate as his childhood is reduced to playing the identically dressed fool to Frozen Billy. Resourceful Clarrie unfolds a complex plan to spirit away four family members on an Australia-bound ship with one ticket among them. Fine's sprightly language and intricate plotting briskly move the clan to the brink of the Australian landing. McBain's ink drawings mainly serve well, but an odd illustrated plot point-which evokes the mockery of old minstrel shows-may puzzle readers. Clarrie constructs a girl dummy in blackface with filched props and trims, darkening the puppet's face and limbs with stage make-up to resemble the smiling girl on a cocoa tin. When Clarrie (echoing Will's shtick with Billy) makes herself up equivalently, this interesting effort becomes a flawed one. Ages 8-12. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"Fine's genius for storytelling reaches new heights: simple, direct and with a subtle period feel to the narrative and dialogue" * Independent * "Unsettling and atmospheric, this story of a young brother and sister boldly making their own fates is told in the voice of the girl with lightness and simplicity but covers dark and complex territory before reaching its happy ending" * The Sunday Times * "Full of terrific characters and deceptions and intrigues" * TES *

Gr 4-6-A story set in Edwardian England. Clarrie and Will's dad is in Australia trying to earn enough money to send for his family. Their mum goes to Ireland for a funeral, where she is mistakenly imprisoned for theft. This leaves the children in the care of alcoholic Uncle Len, a ventriloquist. He and his doll aren't getting many laughs these days, so he encourages Will to dress as Frozen Billy's twin. They become the lead act. In a series of notebooks, Clarrie recounts the gradual change in Will from exuberant younger brother to cold, brittle performer. Clarrie is frightened when he begins talking to creepy Frozen Billy at night. She realizes that he needs rescuing and hatches an elaborate plan. "Good" Clarrie is able to plot their getaway precisely because no one expects it of her. This melodrama strains credulity but conveys a real sense of the disturbing changes in the characters. Will and Uncle Len spiral into bitterness and detachment, while Clarrie finds a tenacity and cleverness in herself that was previously unknown. Rough black-and-white drawings give a sense of the vaudeville theater and the period. As usual, Fine creates fascinating characters, an intense impression of time and place, and a fast-paced plot.-B. Allison Gray, John Jermain Library, Sag Harbor, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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