Review | Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Splendors and GloomsClara Wintermute is fascinated by the stringed puppet show she sees performed on a street corner. She pleads with her father to hire the small show to be the entertainment for her birthday party. Despite his concerns about the dirty, lower-class, expert puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, he consents. Clara is excited to meet the two orphaned children who assist Grisini with the puppet show, and to their surprise, Clara invites Lizzie Rose and Parsefall to a little tea party before they are supposed to perform in Clara’s home.

To Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, Clara seems to have everything: plenty to eat, loving parents, and a lovely, warm home to live in. It isn’t until they spend a little bit of time speaking with her that they learn of the sad family life that Clara is forced to endure. When Clara vanishes the night of her birthday, after the puppet show is over, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer, Grisini. When Grisini suddenly disappears, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are left to fend for themselves and try to the put the pieces of Clara’s disappearance together.

I really wanted to like this book. The cover looks so enchanting and magical. I thought the writing in Splendors and Glooms was very good. I liked the children characters, and I liked pieces of the magical element included in the story. However, I’m wondering what it really is that makes this a children’s book? It was so dark, and the adult characters play such a large role in the story, that until the end of the of the book I felt their presence overshadowed that of the children.

Another reason I didn’t love this book, is that I thought the story was just okay. There were interesting components to it, but it moved rather slowly most of the time, and the magical element seemed more like an afterthought to explain pieces of a story that wasn’t really magical at all.

Granted this book had tight writing, but I don’t understand how it was awarded a Newbery Honor; especially over Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I had a librarian tell me that one of the reasons Wonder may not have gotten a Newbery Honor is because it became so popular, and that the Newbery Medal and Honors aren’t usually given to popular books. This doesn’t make much sense to me. According to the ALSC website, the Newbery is to be awarded to, ‘the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.’ I don’t see why a book becoming popular should affect it’s chances to be given the Newbery. It seems a little counter-intuitive to not consider a book because it’s already been embraced by the public.

Because of how dark this book is, I would recommend it for teenagers rather than its intended younger audience.


Overall Rating:   3 of 5 stars false (for story alone I’d give it 2 stars)

Parent’s guide:

  • Sex: a woman reflecting on men admiring her
  • Violence: a child is kidnapped and turned into a puppet, children are physically and verbally abused, a little boy’s finger is cut off because of disobedience, references to people being burned to death, magic is used to hurt a man in various ways, a man chases after a little girl and falls into a frozen lake
  • Language: mild
  • Mature Themes: harsh physical realities (poverty, children hungry and abandoned, children dying from sickness), parents overcome with grief over the loss of their children