Skip to main content

The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff, 276pp, RL 4


With The Matchstick Castle, Keir Graff has written the perfect summer read for kids, although anyone who likes adventures with larger-than-life families will love this book no matter what the season. In narrator, soon-to-be-sixth-grader Brian Brown, Graff creates a believable, every-kid voice, drawing you into the story immediately. Instead of a summer filled with soccer tournaments, staying up late and eating junk food, Brian finds himself stuck in Boring, Illinois with his straight-A cousin Nora and his Uncle Gary, who needs subjects to beta-test his educational computer software, Summer's Cool, on. But, a lost soccer ball and a jog into the nearby woods changes Brian and Nora's summer in more ways than they could have imagined.

Hidden in the woods is the Matchstick Castle, a rambling, ramshackle, hazardous seven storey house with a boat perched a top the highest point. Living in the Matchstick Castle are five brothers, the great-grandsons of the architect, Archibald McCulloch van Dash, who happened to find, then hide too well, a chest filled with Confederate gold. Ivar, Kingsley, Roald, Montague and Dashiell van Dash, along with Dash's son Cosmo and Anthea, his missing aviatrix wife, are all adventurers and explorers, traveling by boat, foot, on the fiercest seas and darkest jungles. Kingsley von Dash has even explored what he calls "the depths of the most frightening place: the human brain," and documented it in his book, The Cerebral Conundrum. The brothers van Dash aren't good at more practical things like keeping the Matchstick Castle livable and safe, answering the mail or using a computer, and when Brian and Nora stumble into their crumbling abode, they also stumble into a few serious problems. The Matchstick Castle is just days away from being torn down by the city of Boring for numerous code violations and Uncle Kingsley, who has been missing for over a year, sends word that he is trapped - inside the Matchstick Castle!

Graff does a marvelous job in creating the Matchstick Castle, making it feel just real enough to be believed and imagined, but packed with an array of oddities like a mushroom garden and a candlepin bowling alley along with a grand ballroom and a massive library with a hilarious cataloguing system with directions like, "On the third or fourth shelf above the spot where Roald spilled the bowl of Artillery punch at Christmas" instead of call numbers. And of course, many many staircases in varying degrees of usability and safety. While Brian and Nora lead the battle to save the Matchstick Castle (among many battles, one of which involves giant Amazonian killer wasps) the van Dash family steal the show. Graff wraps up the story nicely, with some surprises and discoveries that help the cast save the day - and the castle. I hope that Graff has another book planned with this setting and these characters - I need to know more about the remarkable van Dash family.

Source: Review Copy



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!

Be…

POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…

How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers

How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers remains the most read post on my blog since I wrote it in 2012. Because of this, I have cleaned up this post, tightened the writing and added in any pertinent information that has come about since it originally ran. When I first started books4yourkids.com in August of 2008, I was scrambling for content, finding my purpose and my voice and not always doing my best writing. How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers was one of the first articles I wrote and, as a bookseller and a book reviewer, and now as an elementary school librarian where I have gone from working with kids reading well beyond their grade level to kids reading well below, this philosophy remains my organizing principle and central focus when reading and recommending books to parents and children. 

In the interest of my mission and the attention this article continues to receive, I have updated and expanded this article and included a guide to using …