The Wonderling
by Mira Bartók (Author, Illustrator)

Booktalk: In the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, an institution run by evil Miss Carbunkle, a cunning villainess believes her terrified young charges exist only to serve and suffer. Part animal and part human, the groundlings toil in classroom and factory, forbidden to enjoy anything regular children have, most particularly singing and music. For the Wonderling, an innocent-hearted, one-eared, fox-like eleven-year-old with only a number rather than a proper name — a 13 etched on a medallion around his neck — it is the only home he has ever known. But unexpected courage leads him to acquire the loyalty of a young bird groundling named Trinket, who gives the Home’s loneliest inhabitant two incredible gifts: a real name — Arthur, like the good king in the old stories — and a best friend. Using Trinket’s ingenious invention, the pair escape over the wall and embark on an adventure that will take them out into the wider world and ultimately down the path of sweet Arthur’s true destiny.

Snippet: Before he was called the Wonderling, he had many names: Puddlehead, Plonker, Groundling, and Spike, among others. He didn’t mind these much, not even Groundling. The name he truly disliked was the first he ever remembered being called: Number Thirteen. It wasn’t a name, really. Just a number, written in red, on a piece of paper, filed in a drawer, in a room full of hundreds of files and drawers. It was embossed on a small tin medallion attached to a piece of cord he wore around his neck at a home for unclaimed creatures.

Author and illustrator Mira Bartók shares her process in this interview:

Q. When did you start writing?

A. I think I was about five. The first words I remember writing were for a little comic strip I made about a bunny who lived under a table. The words were: “Hello” and “Bye.” 🙂 I continued to write after that, mostly poetry. But I didn’t start writing for a living until I was about 31.

Q. Describe your writing process.

A. It varies! But what’s consistent is that I always write by hand first, usually with a special pen. And sometimes I play word salad games before I start–I find random words or phrases in books and put together surreal sentences from the mix to get my brain working. And sometimes I go to a museum, sketch an object, and start writing from there. I don’t outline larger projects until I’m well into the book, and then I’m constantly changing my mind. I also work on a large wall, pinning up sketches and index cards with notes, then moving them around. And for complicated scenes where a lot of things are happening at once, I set up about three giant dry erase boards and try to figure out who goes where when.

Q. Tell us about your latest book.

A. My latest book, The Wonderling, is set in a Dickensian/Victorian world peppered with a touch of steampunk, myth, and magic. It is about a shy, down-trodden fox/human (a groundling) named Number Thirteen who, thanks to his bird-like friend Trinket, is given a real name (Arthur), and is able to escape Miss Carbuncle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures. Arthur sets out to seek his destiny in a strange and luminous land, and encounters both wonders and dangers along the way. He must find out who he truly is, and at the same time, stop Miss Carbuncle from destroying something so precious to everyone that the world would be bereft without it.

Find out more about Bartók’s creative process in this video.

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