A darkly comic children's fantasy by the ever popular author of the Clemency Pogue series (starting with Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer). A great Halloween tale for the 9-14 year old.
Title: The Squampkin Patch A Nasselrogt Adventure
Author: JT Petty
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2006
This is the first (and thus far, only) Nasselrogt Adventure. It is rather silly, somewhat unsettling in parts, and well enough written, considering that it is written for children. It is not as silly as the Clemency Pogue books, but may be on par (sillynesswise) with A Series of Unfortunate Events. And yes, it is yet another story of orphans on the run, except that this time the parents are still alive.
The Nasselrogt (pronounced 'Nasal Rod') children, Chloe and Milton, lose their parents in the department store one day, and are sent off to the orphanage. (The parents are discovered, several days later, trapped inside two of the demo tanning beds in the Home Spa department. It's that sort of book). The orphanage is in fact a zipper factory staffed entirely by brainwashed children. The food is awful. The company is awful. The zippers are awful. The kids escape from the orphanage -- only moments before their parents arrive to bring them home. Tragic.
After a short flight (bus ride, actually), the children discover an abandoned house, once the home to a grouchy confectioner, now mysteriously abandoned. He has left behind a gigantic stash of candy, a large wad of cash, and a breeding colony of mysterious vegetable-like creatures called squampkins. The kids must fend for themselves, stay hidden from the headmaster of the orphanage, solve the mystery of the squampkins, and deal with the eccentric neighbors. It's not quite as interesting as it sounds, but nearly so.
Well, I won't tell you more specifics, as spoilers suck. I will say that the ending is rather disturbing. Even taking into account that this is a Halloween tale, and that Petty has no objection to killing off random characters, the last page and a half are... disturbing. You have been warned.
So; how does this compare to other comic juvenile fantasy? Well, it's not bad, but it's not the best. The level of silliness is not consistent. Yes, that is important. Having an unexpectedly silly event suddenly appear can be just as bad as any deus ex machina, even in a wholly silly book. It's one thing to be sent to a zipper factory full of zombies, and quite another to escape that factory by sticking a zipper to the wall and unzipping an opening. It's also a little dark for my taste, having more gruesome deaths than your average children's book, especially those of the comic fantasy genre. (But let us not forget, it is Halloween).
On the plus side, Petty likes playing with the language, and he's not bad at it. I particularly like his inventive metaphors, something I do not usually appreciate. If you like wordplay and sillyness, I would suggest starting with the Clemency Pogue books, which have more of both. (Although they are also much shorter books, and may suffer a bit because of that).
The Squampkin Patch is never going to be a classic, but it is a good book. It's not anywhere in the top 300 juvenile comic fantasy booklist (kids like funny magical stories; it's a really big genre). If you are interested in this sort of book, start with Lemony Snicket, Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Debi Gliori, or any of a hundred other authors writing about orphans, dark magic, sudden, odd forms of death, and the darker side of silly. But if you've read all those, you should try Squampkins!