Books & Literature

Book Review: The What on Earth Institute of Wonder, by Lisa Nicol

MIDDLE GRADE: A mind-boggling expedition into the secrets of the Animal Kingdom with only an invisible map of the human heart as a guide. (Unless, of course, you count the talking parrot.) What on Earth could possibly go wrong…?

A beautiful, heart-warming story of loss and love … for our planet, our town, our home, and our family.

What a beautiful story Lisa Nicol has written for us to enjoy. It is heart-warming and so full of love, but also loss. By the time you finish The What on Earth Institute of Wonder, you may just want to go out and save the world single-handedly.

It is the story of Sal and her younger brother Ray (Ray is a doomsday prepper at the tender age of 8). They live next door to best friend Bartholomew. Both Sal and Ray’s dad and Bartholomew’s mum left one day and nobody heard from either of them again. How do you manage to continue when you are always wondering what happened and your remaining parent is just managing to cope themselves? Sal’s mum has taken to moon gazing and Bartholomew’s dad is just angry all the time. One day, a Kakapo arrives outside Sal’s window (a Kakapo is a large flightless bird from New Zealand). Even more mysterious is that Sal can understand what the bird says. Then to top it off, an African Jungle elephant appears in their town. Where have these animals come from and why have they chosen the town of Larry: Don’t get your hopes up (as it is written on the town sign).

The What on Earth Institute of Wonder is definitely a book full of wonder. Every now and then, an author will break the fourth wall and address the reader directly. Roald Dahl did it in books like The Witches. Andy Lee does it when he tells us not to Open the Book!! It works really well as a means to involve the reader in the story and feel part of it. Nicol uses this technique to let us know that this story may sound unbelievable but every single bit is true. Her little asides are very funny.

There are so many little truisms along the way. Happiness … turns up in the most surprising of places. We think we know where to find it—or where to look for it—but rarely is it where we expect it to be.

It is hard not to fall in love with the three children who, despite their own problems, just want to do what is right against the tide of public opinion. As readers, we loathe the postmaster who is cruel and deceitful. We feel the pain of loss and we will the children to succeed. Nicol has a wonderful way with words. She weaves her story artfully as she takes us along for the ride.

Lisa Nicol, an Australian author, has already written Dr Boogaloo and The Girl Who Lost her Laughter (currently being adapted for the screen as a musical) and Vincent and The Grandest Hotel on Earth. If you are already a fan, you will definitely want to read this novel. If you are new to her stories, start reading now. Good readers as young as eight will enjoy the story. Teachers may also want to use it as a class novel. There are so many discussion points and it would fit in perfectly with an endangered animal theme. This is definitely a book you will want to read more than once.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

Distributed by: Penguin Books
Released: 31 August 2021
RRP: $16.99

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