Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes is so much fun to read aloud that, for the first time in ten years of reading to her, my daughter jumped in to take over the reading – specifically to give voice to a ten-year-old heroine. When a villain tells Peter Nimble that he’s “just a child,” this young girl proclaims, “There’s no such thing as just a child.” This belief in the intelligence and capability of children propels the book forward and endears the narrator and the story itself to the reader. There were a few mysteries in the book that I felt were a little too solvable as an adult, but rather than being disappointed, my daughter was thrilled and proud to figure them out before the book disclosed them. Auxier possesses an expert understanding of how to engage children and to guide them through a winding and complex tale with constantly changing scenery.
The enthusiastic and confident cadence of the book and the focus on children, largely separate from and uncared for by adults, evoked J.M. Barie’s Peter Pan. The main character, ten-year-old Peter Nimble, was reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Bod Owens – two loving, smart boys, born into horrifying circumstances that will either make them heroes or destroy them. Peter Nimble is so downtrodden and uncared for at the beginning of the book that it was sometimes hard to read as a parent. My daughter has asked me not to say things like, “Poor, Harry!” when we read together. It is hard not to read about characters like Peter Nimble – and the boy who lived – and not point out the places where adults should have provided some intensive emotional and mental health support.
With Peter Nimble, while I felt the author had an outstanding understanding of children’s intellectual abilities, there were some moments that I felt did not play well on an emotional level for a ten-year-old. Some violence was described so casually that it felt like gratuitous. On the other hand, Peter Nimble makes some mistakes in his relationships while he balances independence with accepting support and being part of a team. He learns from these mistakes with grace and is met with love and acceptance by the characters whom he offends. These are perfect lessons for young readers embedded in thrilling adventure so that they don’t seem didactic or moralistic. High praise for Peter Nimbler and Auxier: The moment we finished Peter Nimble, my daughter was already holding the sequel, Sophia Quire, eager to escape quarantine again and return to Peter’s bizarre world of child heroes.