Adventures in Reading

Fiction: The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French

Of all the book genres to shop in, my favorite section to make a book selection based purely on the weight of the book jacket has to be the children’s section. It is the one area of books where covers can be as fanciful and whimsical as you like, with no concern for the austerity that settles upon the art of adult’s books [1]. Vivian French’s The Robe of Skulls has been one such book, and I made sure to check it out before all of our available copies went to Halloween displays.

The Robe of Skulls is the story of the abused orphan Gracie Gillypot and her escape from her evil stepfather and sister thanks to the help of a bat. It’s also the story of Prince Marcus, whose overprotective father has contributed to his boredom with being a prince and it is the same bat that helps him with an adventure. Marlon the bat works for the Ancient Ones, weavers, and these ladies exist at the center of the story. But it is Lady Lamorna and her desire to acquire a dress decorated with skulls that she cannot afford that truly begins the story. In a world of True and Falsehearts, who will escape the weavers?

French’s tale is a ghoulish book filled with marvelous names and locations punctuated by Ross Collins’ illustrations that have a Roald Dahlish quality, a certain gruesomeness and starkness that encourages the viewer to fill in more detail. Though a relatively simple and short story, The Robe of Skulls manages to embrace many fairy tale nuances: orphans, princes, beautiful damsels, royalty turning into frogs, a witch with an inept sidekick, and everyone (mostly) returns home after learning valuable lessons.

A cute story with just enough fright to keep it interesting (but not too scary), I am sure it will be an endearing read for children. However, I did feel it lacked the complexity that makes children’s books also attractive to adults.

[1] Excluding some fantasy and sci-fi books, but even then they’re usually a bit more mature for adult consumption.

Conclusion: Returned to work.

Other opinions: Charlotte’s Library.



I would totally have read that one because of the cover too. The fairy tale nuances make it sound appealing, but I do like children’s books that are more complex and thought-provoking.

Comment by Nymeth

I agree- that’s terrific cover art. It’s disappointing when the story doesn’t have exactly what you’re looking for. Have you read “Seven Wild Sisters” by Charles de Lint? I would recommend it to you.

Comment by Rachel

Nymeth: The cover is even better “in life” because of the cover’s glossiness. I am in complete agreement with you when it comes to the thought and complexity of children’s books. I realize that some books truly are targeted for younger readers, and then it just makes me a tad melancholy that I didn’t read it when I was a child to more fully appreciate it. Ahh, the trials of growing up!

Rachel: You have made my day Rachel. Charles de Lint has been one of those authors where I’m like, “I want to read him. I really, really want to read him. Now where do I start?” I’m definitely going to see if I can pick up a copy of Seven Wild Sisters.

Comment by bookchronicle

[…] kidnapping and black magic–to get the money to pay for it. Age 6-10. Reviews, 1, 2, 3, 4. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The Robe of […]

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I love your book The Robe of Skulls. I still have it this day. You are a great author! Thank You for writing this book and forreading this now!

Comment by Anndrea Purdy

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