Denise Mealy | The Children’s Book Review | March 21, 2019
The Very Last Castle
Written by Travis Jonker
Illustrated by Mark Pett
Age Range: 4 and up
Hardback: 40 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4197-2574-6 (2018)
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
What to expect: Community, bravery, inclusiveness
Ibb is an ordinary girl who lives in an ordinary town with a very extraordinary castle. No one in town knows what happens within its steep stone walls, but they sure have theories.
“Monsters,” said Miss wicks about the snap, snap, snapsound from behind the walls. Thud, thud, thud sounds are clearly the steps of Giants, according to her wise friend Alex. And that scary hissing sound? Snakes, her grandfather says seriously.
But Ibb isn’t afraid. She’s curious, because each day she sees a lone guard standing at the top of the tower, watching her. She tosses a rock or two in the vast moat and gets no response from the silent guard. The next day he’s missing, and she ratchets up her courage. She sails across the moat in a row boat and knocks on the door. Terrifying hisses greet her, and she runs away to school.
The next day she receives an invitation to come to the castle. She goes, and the door miraculously opens. Turns out some of the guesses were right – there are giants and monsters inside. But they are garden topiaries! And that hissing sound? It’s the lone guard, watering his plants with a hose. William (the guard has a name) is the keeper of the castle, and he invites her to look around with him. She spends the rest of the day pruning the topiaries (snap, snap, snap), harvesting apples (thud, thud, thud). Like Willy Wonka, William needs someone to help take care of the plants and castle when he’s gone. Someone brave and curious, just like Ibb who was brave and curious enough to come to the castle when no one else in town would.
She agrees, on one condition: that he brings members of the community inside his castle walls. The story ends with Ibb and her family and friends enjoying the fruits of her and William’s labor in a sweet picnic.
This delightful story of bravery, inclusiveness and belonging touches the hearts of children and adults alike. Ibb is precocious and adorable, pushing the limits of what she and her family and friends know to discover the secret of the castle right under everyone’s noses. Seeing that William is in need – of a friend, of a place to belong – she steps up and brings her two worlds together to make a happier, kinder place.
The pen and watercolor drawings are beautifully soft and bright, lending an airy fairy-tale feel to the story. And what child wouldn’t want to imagine a giant castle in the middle of their ordinary, hum-drum town?
With a diverse and expertly drawn cast of characters, simple and engaging text, and a core story that touches the heart, THE VERY LAST CASTLE is a delight that should not be missed.
About the Author
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian and creator of 100 Scope Notes, a kidlit blog hosted by School Library Journal. He was a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. Jonker lives with his wife and two children in Zeeland, Michigan.
The Very Last Castle, written by Travis Jonker and illustrated by Mark Pett, was reviewed by Denise Mealy. Discover more books like The Very Last Castle by following along with our reviews and articles tagged with Bravery, Castles, Community Relationships, Inclusion, Mark Pett, Picture Book, and Travis Jonker.
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