The world may know Evangeline Lilly from her work as Kate in Lost or Tauriel in the Hobbit trilogy, but the actress has long harbored aspirations as an author, and The Squickerwonkers is her first published work.
A children’s picture book, The Squickerwonkers tells (in rhyme!) the story of Selma, a clever but extremely spoiled little girl. When she wanders away from her family at a carnival, she finds something she never expected – an eclectic bunch of living marionettes – the Squickerwonkers. When Selma throws a fit, unused to not getting her own way, she soon finds that she may be joining the Squickerwonkers forever.
The Squickerwonkers is delightfully odd, sure to delight adult fans of Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton as well as brave children of all ages. The illustrations of Johnny Fraser-Allen perfectly complement Lilly’s quirky and measured verse, sending chills down the spine – but the fun kind!
Come onto the stage, don’t be afraid,
Meet my motley crew.
They may have their vices,
But those are life’s spices,
And I suspect… so do you.
In children’s books, rhyme is actually quite difficult to master, but Lilly’s rhyme flows smoothly, with only the occasional hiccup – and that’s barely noticeable as you’re immersed in the tale. The spooky end, where – SPOILER ALERT – Selma is transformed into one of the Squickerwonkers herself, will admittedly frighten some children, but as Evangeline herself says in a recent interview,
There’s been a trend for a very long time where children’s storybooks are very careful and very meek and have to have happy endings, but those happy endings are only for good people. The world isn’t that simple. What the Squickerwonkers are really dealing with and talking to children about is human nature, the not-so-pretty sides of human nature. Children are oblivious to their own vices, and that’s why they can hurt each other so badly. If children are not familiar with them, they’ll just be afraid of them and confused by them and ashamed of them.
In my non-MuggleNet life, I am a children’s bookseller, so I can echo these sentiments sincerely. So often the parents and grandparents that come into my store underestimate children’s ability to deal with dark or complex issues. Just this morning, we had a woman return There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly because it has the word “die” in it! Kids are smart, and while we want to protect them, they don’t need to be sheltered from things that are a natural part of life, whether it’s death or acting not so nicely resulting in a non-optimal outcome.
But that’s enough theorizing! The Squickerwonkers is a strange and wacky book but a fun one all the same. Lilly’s set-up of the story definitely makes it seem as though we could potentially see more of the Squickerwonkers in later installments (which I, for one, will be looking forward to!). Honestly, I’d even love to see how these characters play out in a longer, middle-grade format.
The book also contains a few easter eggs for big Tolkien fans like me – Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Richard Taylor all contribute kind words and blurbs to the book. I definitely recommend picking up a copy at a bookstore or checking it out from a library to see if it’s to your taste – you just might find one of your favorite new picture books!