‘A Flicker of Courage’ by Deb Caletti is a farcical fantasy for middle grade readers

flicker of courage

“A Flicker of Courage” by Deb Caletti is a book that will appeal to children who love extremely fantastic books — fantastic in the sense that everything that happens in this story is either the best or the worst in the world, and Henry Every, the main character, and his four friends will have to vanquish evil and do heroic deeds without being caught or killed themselves.

The ruler of the Timeless Province, where Henry and his friends live, is Vlad Luxor, the HRM (Horrible Ruler with Magic). Past rulers have been RMs, Rulers with Magic, and life under their rule was fine. But Vlad Luxor is evil, and if someone displeases him, even inadvertently, he reacts swiftly and with vengeance.

He has turned a news anchor into a zucchini for speaking poorly of the new ruler. He has even “transformed his own right-hand man, Devin Cowlick, into a crumbling statue for not admiring him greatly enough.” He has turned a science teacher into a scary clown because this HRM doesn’t believe in science. Calletti goes on to write that “….This is shocking and almost too awful to believe, but some children were even put into cold, windowless rooms and locked up.” Gosh! Do we know anyone in power who hates science and is evil enough to lock up innocent children?

While Vlad Luxor is the worst, the very worst possible ruler imaginable, Henry has the worst family imaginable as well. His primary solace in the home where his parents don’t feed him (he sneaks food at night) is his dog, Button. His other solace is watching the family next door, the Dante family. They are the family that Henry would give anything to have. Apollo is Henry’s age and a kind, popular boy who often offers to play with Henry. And his family invites Henry to join them for dinner. But Henry is so beaten, so embarrassed by his parents, that he can’t even respond, much less accept their generous invitations.

But all that changes when something terrible happens to the Dante family. Vlad Luxor turns Apollo’s younger brother, Rocco, into a naked lizard. When Henry sees the despair of the Dante family, he is emboldened to try to help — even though he has no idea how. And when Henry and Apollo set out to visit Henry’s grandfather in his marvelous lighthouse, they are joined by two girls from Henry’s class, Jo Idár and Pirate Girl. It turns out that the kids had received mysterious telegrams from Henry’s grandfather instructing them to all meet at the lighthouse.

That’s when they all find out that they are spell breakers, descended from a long line of spell breakers. And together, they must all try to find a way to rescue Rocco and eventually help the people render Vlad Luxor powerless.

This is just the first book in a series about these four valiant and quirky characters. Kids will enjoy the adventures, and while there is more explanation and description than actual action, there are also black and white old-timey looking illustrations that add interest. The content is appropriate for third grade through middle school, although older readers might find the content too elementary for them.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Putnam, for review purposes.