The unadoptables

Hana Tooke

Book - 2020

In all the years that Elinora Gassbeek has been matron of the Little Tulip Orphanage, not once have the Rules for Baby Abandonment been broken. Until the autumn of 1880, when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances; one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket. Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem, and Milou. And although their cruel matron might think they're "unadoptable," they know their individuality is what makes them special--and so determined to stay together. When a most sinister gentleman appears and threatens to tear them apart, the gang make a daring escape across the frozen canals of Amsterdam. But is their real hom...e--and their real family--already closer than they realize?--

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Fantasy fiction
Action and adventure fiction
New York, NY : Viking 2020.
Main Author
Hana Tooke (author)
Physical Description
375 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Despite 12 bleak years at an orphanage in Amsterdam, Milou is confident her parents will eventually return for her. In the meantime, her only solace is in four orphan friends, all possessing unusual talents and skills. When a shady stranger arrives to adopt the ragtag bunch, a suspicious Milou convinces her friends to escape before they're whisked away to certain doom. A puzzling clue in her original belongings may lead them to her family--and, hopefully, freedom--but when their travels point them to an abandoned windmill and a derelict puppet theater, it's clear their search will be anything but straightforward. Tooke's absorbing tale evokes the nineteenth-century Netherlands, including a smattering of Dutch vocabulary, and it's a pleasure to explore the quirky and occasionally foreboding settings alongside the curious crew of orphans. Flashes of suspense and peril are balanced by lighthearted moments, with the bonds between the children creating a coziness even in the grimmest of circumstances. Always breezy, never dreary, this is a lovely testament to the power of family, in whatever form that may take.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1880, five babies were abandoned at Amsterdam's Little Tulip Orphanage without adhering to the institution's orderly rules. Named by the cruel Matron Gassbeek, their monikers are as unique as they are: 12-fingered Lotta, a master of mathematics; gentle Egg, a budding cartographer; timid Fenna, a mute culinary expert; and protective Sem, a sewing whiz. The fifth, Milou, whose ear-prickling sense warns her of impending danger, has written a book of theories about why her parents abandoned her in a small coffin. Twelve years later, these inseparable children, all considered unadoptable, are suddenly courted by a merchant who wants them to join him aboard his ship. Instead, the five escape to an abandoned windmill once owned by Milou's family; however, even their lifelike puppet guardian and Milou's sixth sense may not protect them from the dangers of the outside world. Despite employing a well-trod conceit--orphans frantic to escape a miserable life creating a found family--this story stands out for its enchanted setting, daring escapades, and an arch, vividly wrought third-person narrative by debut author Tooke. Ages 8--12. (July)

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Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 4--7--Five orphans dropped off at the Little Tulip Orphanage within months of each other in 1880 remain there 12 years later. Growing up under the thumb of the duplicitous matron Gassbeek, who makes Miss Hannigan look like Mother Teresa, the orphans have banded together to create a tight-knit family. The leader of their group, the smart, creative and daring Milou, encourages them to mount an escape when an advantageous situation presents itself. Each orphan possesses a special skill which comes in handy when needs arise. Lotta, born with six fingers on each hand, is mechanically inclined and technically savvy. Egg is an artist and cartographer, Sem is a genius with a sewing needle, and Fenna, although mute, speaks the language of animals fluently. Each orphan has a clue or two about their birth parents, but no one is as eager to find their mother and father as Milou; that becomes the group's first order of business. The plot thickens with the arrival of a dastardly villain, a nosy yet helpful neighbor, and complications of the children's own doing. The Amsterdam setting lends a theatrical feel and perilous situations keep the pages turning. Milou finds some unexpected answers, but the book leaves many questions about the others should there be a sequel. VERDICT These resourceful orphans will quickly captivate readers who enjoy mysterious adventure stories. The concept of what makes a family is examined with surprising results. Recommended.--Sara-Jo Lupo Sites, George F. Johnson Memorial Lib., Endicott, NY

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Targeted in a wicked scheme, five resourceful kids flee their orphanage in 1892 Amsterdam. Each longs to be adopted, but would-be parents reject them when they see the kids' atypical attributes: Lotta's 12 fingers, Egg's East Asian ancestry (other characters default to white), Fenna's muteness, clumsy Sem's ears, and Milou's wild ferocity. That is, until sinister Meneer Rotman sees their remarkable gifts--but Milou's special sense warns her that Rotman's evil. Indeed: They discover he intends to buy them as slave labor to crew his ship. Milou, who keeps a Book of Theories regarding why her birth family hasn't claimed her, persuades them to escape to the puppet-making Poppenmaker family she's sure she belongs to. Loyal if not convinced, the others join her. Lotta's math and Egg's cartographic acumen help them follow coordinates on Milou's mysterious timepiece to the Poppenmakers' windmill home and puppet theater, now abandoned. Thanks to Lotta's technical ingenuity, Egg's artistry, Fenna's culinary prowess, and Sem's needlework--assisted by clockmaker and dike warden Edda Finkelstein--it's almost home. Then Milou forgets the other orphans have family longings, and the orphans discover Rotman has not forgotten them….While the vivid, Dickensian setting--grim orphanage, icy mists, and shadowy dockyards--and quaint clockwork creations and life-size puppets spin a web of Gothic creepiness, the bonds among this found family of lively orphans add plenty of warmth and light. Unfolding with the clarity of a fairy tale, this sure-footed debut casts a delightfully spooky spell. (Fantasy. 8-12) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Little Tulip Orphanage Q  Rules for Baby Abandonment  W Rule One: The baby should be wrapped in a  cotton  blanket. Rule Two: The baby should be placed in a  wicker  basket. Rule Three: The baby should be deposited on the topmost step.   In all the years that Elinora Gassbeek had been matron of the Little Tulip Orphanage, not once had the Rules for Baby Abandonment been broken. Until the summer of 1880. Five babies were abandoned in the months that followed and, despite the Rules being clearly displayed on the orphanage's front door, not one of these babies was abandoned  sensibly . The first baby arrived on a bright morning at the end of August, as dew glistened on the city's cobblestone streets. Swaddled in a pink cotton blanket and placed on the appropriate step was a baby with cocoa-­bean eyes and blond fuzz on its head. However, the way in which Rule Two had been disregarded left no room for forgiveness. The child was snuggled inside a tin toolbox, which had been wrapped with emerald-­green ribbon, as if it were a present. "Ugh!" Elinora Gassbeek squawked, looking down at the toolbox baby in disgust. She signaled a nearby orphan to retrieve it. "Put it upstairs." The orphan nodded. "What name shall I put on the cot, Matron?" The matron curled her lip. Naming children was tedious, but necessary. "She's got a lotta fingers, Matron!" The baby was sucking its thumb, making loud slurping noises that sent ants crawling up the matron's spine. She counted the child's fingers. Sure enough, it had an extra digit on each hand. "Name it . . . Lotta." The second baby arrived on a blustery evening in September, as a mischievous wind rattled the orphanage's many wooden shutters. An orphan walked into the dining hall, cradling a coal bucket as if it were a bouquet of flowers. Something was  whimpering  inside the bucket. Peering in, the matron was displeased to find a raven-­haired infant, wrapped in a soot-­stained shawl, blinking up at her. "Poor thing was abandoned beside the coal bunker," the orphan said. "Disgraceful!" Gassbeek screeched, referring to the breaking of Rule Two  and  Rule Three. "Take it away." "A name for him, Matron?" the orphan asked nervously. Elinora Gassbeek took another reluctant look at the coal-­bucket baby, its charcoal-­blackened nose, and the shabby shawl wrapped snugly around it. The cotton shawl looked like it had, possibly, been brightly colored once. Now, however, it was a mottled shade of gray, with a barely discernible pattern of darker-­gray ovals. Like rotten eggs, the matron thought. "Name it . . . Egbert." The third baby arrived on an unusually warm afternoon in October, as ladies with parasols paraded on the sun-­warmed street. Sitting on a bench outside, in her finest puffed-­sleeve dress, Elinora Gassbeek opened her picnic hamper and found a wriggling baby, wedged in amongst the cheese sandwiches and almond cake. It had a shock of curly red hair on its head and was babbling incessantly. No blanket. No basket. Not on the front step. The matron screeched, shrill and loud like a boiling kettle. The picnic-­hamper baby immediately fell quiet, its eyebrows squeezing together in a frightened frown. Up and down the street, curious faces appeared in the windows of the tall, narrow brick houses, and the strolling ladies came to a halt. Elinora Gassbeek gathered her wits and forced a smile for her neighbors. An orphan wove through the throng toward her. "She wasn't in there a minute ago," the girl insisted, picking the baby up delicately. "Take it away," Elinora Gassbeek said through gritted teeth. "Yes, Matron. But . . . a name?" The orphan rocked the now-­silent baby, gently brushing fennel seeds from its hair. The matron shuddered. "Name it . . . Fenna." The fourth baby arrived on a gloomy morning in November, as a blanket of fog curled over the canal behind the house. The delivery bell on the second floor jangled, rung from a boat on the canal below. Using the pulley system attached outside the window, an orphan hoisted the bucket winch up. As it emerged from the fog, Elinora Gassbeek's eye began to twitch. Inside the bucket was a baby, wearing a wheat sack and a sad frown. Two holes had been cut in the bottom of the sack, to allow its unusually long legs to poke through. The matron hauled the wheat-­sack child inside, cursing the madness that had befallen her orphanage. "Put some clothes on it," she cawed at the orphan hovering beside her. She looked at the baby's wonky ears, its gangly limbs, and the wheat-­colored hair that stuck out from its head at the unruliest of angles. Printed on the wheat sack were the words semolina flour. The matron groaned. "Name it . . . Sem." The fifth and final baby arrived under a full moon in December, as the constellations shone brightly above Amsterdam's skyline. Elinora Gassbeek had sent an orphan out onto the orphanage's roof to investigate a strange noise. Wedged behind the chimney stack, inside a coffin-­shaped basket, was a baby, cooing contentedly up at the starry night sky. It had hair as dark as midnight and eyes that were almost black. Gingerly, the orphan brought the coffin-­basket baby inside, where it immediately began to wail. Careful not to touch the infant, the matron reached down and pulled a toy from its clutches: a cat puppet, made from the softest Amsterdam cotton and dressed in fine Antwerp silk. A faint ticking noise emanated from the toy, but the matron was tutting too loudly to hear it. "Ridiculous!" She tossed the puppet back in the basket, on top of the black velvet blanket in which the baby was swaddled. On the corner of the blanket, embroidered in white thread, was a name: Milou. Excerpted from The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.