A Very Unusual Pursuit: City of Orphans

Catherine Jinks
AUD $16.99

A clever adventure with feisty characters, set in a time where science clashes with superstition and monsters lurk in chimneys. Birdie, the singing bogler's apprentice, will win your heart in this fantastic beginning to an action-packed series.

WINNER of the CBCA Book of the Year for Young Reader 2014.

Monsters have been infesting London's dark places for centuries, eating every child who gets too close. That's why ten-year-old Birdie McAdam works for Alfred Bunce, the bogler. With her beautiful voice and dainty looks, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them.

One life-changing day, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two very different women. Sarah Pickles runs a local gang of pickpockets, three of whom have disappeared. Edith Eames is an educated lady who's studying the mythical beasts of English folklore. Both of them threaten the only life Birdie's ever known.

But Birdie soon realises she needs Miss Eames's help to save her master, defeat Sarah Pickles, and vanquish an altogether nastier villain.

Catherine Jinks, one of Australia's most inventive writers, has created a fast-paced and enthralling adventure story with edge-of-your-seat excitement and chills.

Author bio:

Catherine Jinks was born in Brisbane in 1963 and grew up in Sydney and Papua New Guinea. She studied medieval history at university and her love of reading led her to become a writer. Her books for children, teenagers and adults have been published to wide acclaim all over the world, and have won numerous awards. Catherine's most recent books include the bestselling Evil Genius series and The Paradise Trap

Catherine lives in the Blue Mountains in NSW with her husband, journalist Peter Dockrill, and their daughter Hannah.

Category: Children's
ISBN: 9781743313060
Awards: Short-listed Norma K Hemming Award 2014 AU; Short-listed NSW Premier's Literary Awards, Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature 2014 AU; Winner CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers, 2014 2014 AU; Winner Adelaide Festival Award for Children's Literature 2014 AU
Publisher: A&U Children's
Imprint: A & U Children
Pub Date: January 2013
Page Extent: 360
Format: Paperback - B format
Age: 10 - 12
Subject: Children's, Teenage & educational

Teachers reviews

Birdie is not that scared of the boglers (monsters that eat children) but there are plenty of other things to be afraid of in a London slum: Sarah Pickles who wants Birdie for her gang of pickpockets, being unable to pay the rent and having to go to the workhouse or worse still, to gaol.

Catherine Jinks tells a competent story but it is in the detailed description of life in a Victorian London slum that An Unusual Pursuit shines. From the language to the occupations, her descriptions ring true and place Birdie’s story in such a solid background that the reader easily accepts the boglers and makes birdie so memorable.This would make an excellent novel to incorporate in a study of the industrial revolution and its effects on those, who without qualifications or employment, moved to the cities. At this remove it’s hard to realise the lives children lived in those times. The conditions were dire and its no wonder people believed in monsters that ate children, the life of a poor child was precarious enough.

Some passages would work well as a comparison with the lives of children living in third world countries. Birdie gets to see a more prosperous life when she meets Miss Eames. It contrasts with the abject poverty of Birdie’s slum existence. Birdie is however not deterred by her circumstances and this character retains her empathy towards others. She sees killing boglers as a valuable service, well worth her risking her life and it is this that makes the character so attractive to the reader
Paula Nordin, Teacher

In this book, Catherine Jinks begins a new series set in 19th Century England: City of Orphans. The first, A Very Unusual Pursuit, tells the story of a bogler, Alfred Bunce, and his apprentice Birdie whose occupation is the entrapment and killing of bogles: monsters who eat children. When children disappear, Alfred Bunce, the ‘bogler’, is called in. Ten-year-old Birdie is a heroine; quick and valiant, with a mesmerising voice. It is she who lures the monsters out with singing and Alfred who stabs the monster with a sharp instrument. Miss Eames, a wealthy educated woman comes into their life. She is interested in studying this ‘unusual occupation’ and even comes up with a few weird theories of her own. She is concerned for Birdie’s welfare as bait for bogles and offers her a new life of wealth and comfort with professional singing lessons thrown in.
Birdie however declines this offer at first but life gets more complicated and dangerous when other evil characters come into play. Alfred and Birdie’s livelihood is thrown into chaos and the invaluable help from Miss Eames is instrumental in thwarting evil plots and setting Birdie and Alfred’s life to rights.  
This is a well-researched and perfectly plotted novel with vivid descriptions, powerful dialogue and captivating characters; both good and bad. There is great attention to detail, giving good description of a world in which the reader will have no first-hand knowledge but be able to enter into.Although this book contains much vocabulary foreign to today’s English, I found the glossary very helpful. I would recommend this book to 10 to 15 year old readers who enjoy a good rollicking yarn with plenty of action and twists.
Claire Cheeseman, Laingholm Primary

I have to admit to being a long term fan of Catherine Jinks. Her writing is engrossing, her topics always interesting and her descriptions of the historical eras spot on. This is the first in a new series based in the London of the Industrial Revolution era. Using the very strong mythology of the area Jinks has created a very believable world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get our history teachers to use novels such as these to interest students in an era that is very much a part of the Australian Curriculum? The historical detail here, particularly with regard to the living conditions, social strata etc would certainly give students are better impressions of just how difficult life was for those of the lower classes and the differenced between rich and poor.

Birdie McAdam is a ‘prentice to Alfred Bunce, the bogler. It is their job to lure out bogles from whence they hide (usually dark and isolated) and destroy them. And the way to do this? Be tempting them with a juicy child singing like an angel. Birdie encounters two strong women who are to have a momentous effect on her life. Sarah Pickles a local gang leader who wants to lure Birdie into her employ and upper class Edith Eames who is studying what she thinks are the mythical monsters of England, that is until she meets Alfred and Birdie, and learns first hand just how real they are. I am always impressed just how well Jinks creates a great romp with historical detail.
Peta Harrison, Albany SHS

This is a new author to me, writing a YA book about the monsters – bogles – that live in Victorian London in the dark underbelly of the city: the sewers, the chimney, the dumb waiter, the deep cupboard, the Workhouse, the well, the mines....all the places that are nightmarish to even begin with. The evil, deeply foul bogle eats live children – which creates even more nightmares for everyone. 10 year old Birdie McAdam works with Alfred Bunce, a bogler (a man who catches bogles). He knows everything about how to lure them out from their ghastly hiding places; he’s even survived the usually fatal bogle bite! He uses Birdie’s beautiful singing to bait them out from whatever terrible place they’re hiding, then closes a circle with salt to trap the bogle inside – and spears it dead! It appears there is a very brisk (if incredibly dangerous) living to be had, killing bogles. Along the way they also collect Miss Eames, a gentlewoman who is fascinated with all the legends of the bogles and other monsters, and wants to see if they really do exist, and how you can go about killing one. Then there is the very dodgy Sarah Pickles, a Fagin-ish Dickensian character leading a ragged band of pickpockets, who asks them investigate the disappearance of three of her boys... In doing so, Birdie and Alfred walk straight into terrible danger! So there are the evil bogles – but there are also evil people wanting to do equally evil things to humans. There are many issues raised in the book that would be interesting to discuss in schools: people’s fear of the bogey-man and monsters (are they really real?); the frightful conditions of orphans and children struggling to survive without families in the city slums; the dreadful poverty and huge class and monetary gaps between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves-not’; the casual disregard for life itself when one is not loved or precious; the dire conditions of the Workhouse and also the dreadful lunatic asylums; and the fearful, illegal extremes some doctors went to in their quest to experiment for knowledge. Reading this book, then reading something like Charles Dickens’s ‘Oliver Twist’ (with Fagin and his band of pickpockets) would benefit students tremendously in terms of many similar themes, and seeing how writers almost two centuries apart deal with similar issues. The richness of the history in A Very Unusual Pursuit is wonderful, all woven into the fabric of the very readable, gasp-inducing, and quick-paced story. Just don’t go down that dark corridor at night all by yourself...
Malvina Yock

This book was a delight to read. Despite being categorised as children’s fiction, I was hooked from the first page and ended up sacrificing sleep to finish the book. It is suited to any age from around 9 through to 90. Australian fiction has long since come of age, but I am continually encouraged by the quality and offerings of our writers, in particular those who write for young adults.
Catherine Jinks is already a very popular and successful children’s writer published worldwide. Her love of history and affinity with the imagination of children enhances every word.
A Very Unusual Pursuit takes a fantasy London of the past as the setting for a Dickensian tale of ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. In its general ambience I was variously reminded of the writing styles of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Phillip Pullman. The tale features the heroine Birdie, a feisty scrap of a slum orphan, fighting the forces of evil; both against the supernatural and by combating villainous humans.
Birdie is apprenticed to a grizzled old character Alfred Bunce, a bogler. To better understand the term, think bogeyman. Although they are rarely seen and almost never by adults, wherever a child has vanished without trace, a bogle is generally presumed to be lurking nearby. Alfred uses Birdie as his bait. Birdie has an exquisite singing voice and a huge repertoire of ballads, guaranteed to draw any bogle nearby out of hiding – at considerable personal risk- so they can be destroyed.
This story has the classic ingredients beloved of all the very best fairy tales. The good guys include our feisty heroine, portrayed in the style of a cockney street urchin, a dry but protective employer who fulfils the grumpy grandfather stereotype, a fusty maiden researcher of folklore named Emma as the innocent interloper and patron,  and a couple of minor but quirky characters from the taverns and the pickpocket gangs of the London streets.
As if the edge- of- the- seat suspense induced by the child devouring monsters is not enough, Catherine Jinks also introduces a pretty crop of villains ranging from a Sarah Pickles(a female equivalent of Dickens’ character Fagin), through various thugs and enforcers, to the spooky hideout of a thoroughly villainous and deadly doctor with an indescribable secret.
I absolutely refuse to tell you any more, but this is a hugely satisfying read with just enough threads left dangling to have you impatiently awaiting the further adventure of Birdie and her friends. Definitely worthy of one of Allen and Unwin’s “Love it or your money back” stickers, buy the book for a gift for your child, grandchild, school or, if there is no other good excuse, just for yourself.
Heather Stone

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Catherine Jinks’ latest novel, A Very Unusual Pursuit.  Catherine has such an amazing gift for writing utterly believable historical fantasy that you are completely grounded in the story and engrossed in what is going to happen.  She does this with such simplicity and seeming effortlessness with no exaggerated descriptions and explanations that the reader easily finds themselves back in the slums of Victorian London where monsters and bogles are hiding in dark and mysterious corners, devouring children who come too close. Alfred, wizened and tough, is a bogler who with the assistance of Birdie, a ten year old girl with the voice of an angel, lures the bogles out of their hiding places and kills them. When the notorious leader of a local pickpocket gang, Sarah Pickles asks Alfred to investigate the disappearance of three of her young pickpockets both Alfred and Birdie become embroiled in a dangerous situation.  An evil doctor, in his quest for knowledge, will stop at nothing to continue his research including kidnapping, lying and murder. Alfred and Birdie come to rely on the help of an upper class lady, Miss Eames, who has become interested in the study of mythical beasts and English folklore and wants to experience using scientific methods to destroy the beasts. Through this unlikely relationship Birdie’s life is changed forever.

When doing a study of myths and folklore, this book would be a great resource to investigate fabled creatures. Students could look at the different bogles in the book, write a list of their characteristics, what they look like and where they live and then create their own mythical creature for a story. Students could also compare them with other legendary creatures from other countries.  
A Very Unusual Pursuit would also be useful when conducting discussions on social issues such as homelessness, poverty, the history of lunatic asylums and the treatment of people with mental conditions and the harshness of life for people in the lower class during the industrial revolution.
Mary Heuschele, Concordia Primary Campus, QLD

Birdie McAdam is a ten-year-old girl with an unusual occupation: she works as an apprentice to Alfred Bunce, the bogler. A bogler’s job is a dangerous one - bogles are monsters that eat children, and Alfred catches them, using Birdie as bait. Her beautiful singing voice lures them out of hiding and into a circle of salt, while Alfred waits, ready to despatch them. It is a finely tuned process, with any mistakes being life-threatening.

Their comfortable lives are challenged by the arrival of two characters - Sarah Pickles, who runs a gang of young pickpockets, and Edith Eames, a gentlewoman with a strong interested in English folklore, and the scientific method. Catherine Jinks, an award-winning Australian author, has created a wonderfully evocative representation of London in the 1870s, with richly detailed descriptive passages, which bring the city to life. The language has an authentic sound, and the tension is finely maintained throughout, relieved by some welcome injections of humour. There is a fine cast of well-rounded characters, from all walks of life, from the pickpockets in Sarah Pickles’ employ, to the dubious Dr Morton, the gravediggers, and the merchants in the markets
Themes of loyalty, family and friendship are explored, as Birdie finds herself torn between her strong bond with Alfred, who has become a father figure to her, and her attraction to the possibilities of another, more comfortable life, represented by Miss Eames. The book lends itself to an exploration of, and comparison with, the life of a ten-year-old in Australia today, with Birdie, a poor, orphaned girl, whose circumstances have denied her the luxury of an education and whose employment as a bogler’s apprentice is a step up in the world from her previous occupation of tosher - someone who trawls the sewers for anything that could be sold.
Anthea Barrett, CRT, Victoria