By the time I had finished the second paragraph of the first page, a pleasantly warm feeling had spread through my belly and I had a broad smile on my face. Ursula Vernon’s Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of A (Somewhat) Brave Shrew (2008) is the most charming book I can ever remember reading. It is warm and nice and funny and smart.
I wish it had existed when I was around eight or so. I am torn between pleasure that it now exists for today’s children and jealousy that I can only appreciate it as an adult. It has all the charming gentleness of the best parts of The Hobbit mixed with wit akin to Terry Pratchett. It has an adorable protagonist and gorgeous scenery and lovely artwork.
The scenery of Nurk is spectacular. I think the tree of fish is my favourite image, but we also have walls of giant mushrooms, a court of shimmering dragonflies, and bright clean socks. Tying the fantastic and rich world our tiny hero is cast into is a slender thread of common-sense, jointly narrated by Nurk and his heroic grandmother Surka who offers such semi-literate gems as this:
a tRUe aDvEnTuRer nEeDs a keeN WiT, a sTout HeARt, and a stRonG bLAdDeR. Dumb LUck cAn sTAnD in FoR thE WiT aNd THe heARt, bUT i’vE NEveR yEt FouND a GOod sUBstiTutE foR thE BLaDdER.
The pacing is perfect. Nurk, our reluctant shrew hero, receives a mysterious letter and things step along from there as he goes through his small acts of bravery moving on up to an awesome climax. Vernon never wastes a word and employs adorable poetic techniques (watch the alliteration and repetition) to ensure that the smile I had from the first page remained though the whole book.
I hate to trot out tired clichés, but that ‘book for the whole family’ thing is completely true for Nurk. Read this to your small children. After you have bought it for your selfish, childfree self you should have children so you can read Nurk to them.
Ursula Vernon is an award-winning comic book author, children’s book author, illustrator, artist, and a creator of some truly bizarre things. She has a website, is the author of the webcomic Digger and blogs mostly at Bark Like a Fish, Damnit!