American contemporary, Classics, friendship stories, middle grade, Mystery, Readalouds, Spectacular Illustrations

Middle Grade Monday: The Doldrums


I dare you to look through this book without a) gasping b) petting the cover and c) calling over your friends or colleagues so they can also gasp and pet the cover. Of course it is the untenable thing-the story-that counts, but when the package is this deluxe, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Luckily Nicholas Gannon‘s words, characters, and art live up to the promise of the book’s beautiful packaging.

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and trinkets his adventuring grandparents have brought back from their world travels. His grandparents are currently missing and his parents don’t understand Archie or his wander-lust. Luckily Archer makes a friend in neighbour Oliver Glub, who is not as keen on adventuring but will give it a go for Archer’s sake, and Adelaide L. Beaumont, recently arrived from France with a wooden leg and an air of mystery. The three friends hatch an escape plan, but naturally things do not go as expected.


This is a very classic middle grade story about friendship masquerading as an adventure story. That isn’t to say that there isn’t adventure in this delightful tale- there is lots of mystery, calamitous situations, mysterious trunks, encounters with odd strangers, etc. In a way the book demonstrates how anything can turn into an adventure when you’re with friends. Archer, Oliver and Adelaide don’t even realize how lonely they are until they find each other. Gannon has an assured, sensitive narrative voice and some truly lovely phrasing. I found myself wanting to underline certain lines to help imprint them on my brain.


Gannon’s art is warm and delicate and captures the same slightly nostalgic, cozy tone as his writing. Art includes a mix of black and white spot illustrations, coloured plates, and sepia-toned architectural drawings. You can get a sense of the art by visiting the wonderful website, which also includes character descriptions, selected scenes, and lots of carefully curated extras.  This is the ideal book to read curled up in an over-sized chair on a rainy day. It made me crave milky tea in a delicate cup, cozy knitted sweaters, and mail in thick envelopes, sealed with wax. Perfect for fans of The Greenglass House, The Mysterious Benedict Society, classic New York story The Saturdays, Under the Egg and anything by E. L. Konigsburg.

The Doldrums is available now in hard cover from Greenwillow, an imprint of Harper Collins.

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