• Happy birthday Jane Resh Thomas (Daddy Doesn’t have to Be a Giant Anymore) and Theresa Nelson (Ruby Electric).
  • It’s the birth date of Edith Nesbit (1858-1924), The Book of Dragons.
  • French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was also born on this day. Read Napoleon: The Story of the Little Corporal by Robert Burleigh.
  • In 1824, freed American slaves founded Liberia, on the west coast of Africa. Read Head, Body, Legs: A Story from Liberia by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert, illustrated by Julie Paschkis, Koi and the Kola Nuts by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Joe Cepeda, and Why Leopard Has Spots: Dan Stories from Liberia by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert, illustrated by Ashley Brown.
  • Stadium rock was born on this day in 1965, when The Beatles played to nearly sixty thousand fans at New York City’s Shea Stadium. Read Arthur, It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll by Marc Brown.
  • In 1969, the Woodstock Music and Art Festival opens. Read Max Said Yes! The Woodstock Story by Abigail Yasger and Joseph Lipner, illustrated by Barbara Mendes, and My Hippie Grandmother by Reeve Lindbergh, illustrated by Abby Carter.

Today marks National Relaxation Day. We are encouraged to leave our stress-filled lives, kick back, put our feet up, and enjoy something. To me that sounds like an invitation to read an engrossing book.

For a relaxing day, I would recommend picking up Marie Rutkoski’s series ideal for ten- to fourteen-year-olds that begins with The Cabinet of Wonders. One of its protagonists, John Dee was a real person, born in 1527, who straddled the world of science and magic. He worked as a mathematician, astronomer, navigator, occultist, and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. As he amassed one of the largest libraries in Europe, this extraordinary scientist spent the last decades of his life attempting to communicate with angels. These fascinating details have made Dee a darling of the literary establishment; writers as diverse as H.P. Lovecraft, William Shakespeare, and Umberto Eco have all woven him into their fiction.

Rutkoski sets The Cabinet of Wonders in sixteenth-century Bohemia, in a society that wavers between science and magic. Mikhail Kronos, who has a gift for molding metal, has his eyes removed by the Prince of Bohemia. Mikhail had constructed an extraordinary clock that now sits in the town square of Prague; his blindness ensures he will never be able to replicate it. Using magic, the Prince can now wear Mikhail’s eyes. Mikhail’s twelve-year-old daughter, Petra, the protagonist of the story, embarks on a journey to retrieve his eyes and is swept up in the magical and scientific world of her day. John Dee, a spy on assignment from Queen Elizabeth I, helps in her quest; she also recieves aid from a young boy, a member of the hated Roma tribe, called Gypsies, who live surreptitiously on the prince’s land. Whether Petra is helping manufacture a new primary color or looking into the future for John Dee, she demonstrates grit and determination in her adventure. The political and social landscape of the Renaissance has been brilliantly re-created by the author—although many of the magical details have been completely fabricated to weave a spellbinding story.

Although extremely original in content, The Cabinet of Wonders brings to mind Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Petra even has her own constant companion, a tin spider who can talk and read and lives in her hair. Fantasy, steam punk, folklore, and history all meld into a seamless blend. Fortunately for those who fall in love with Petra and this setting, The Celestial Globe and the forthcoming The Jewel of the Kalderash continue Petra’s saga.

So I hope you get to relax today—and pick up a great book like The Cabinet of Wonders.

Here’s a passage from The Cabinet of Wonders:


She stepped down the ladder and was about to return to the entrance when she realized that someone was watching her.

He was a reader. His robes, like Sir. Humfrey’s, were black. His brown hair and beard were long, flowing down his back and chest. There was a buzz of energy about him, and he didn’t stare at Petra the way humans normally do. A human looks away when he is caught secretly gazing at someone. His brown eyes watched her the way a fox watches anything, waiting to see what the thing moving across its territory will do first.


Originally posted August 15, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: History, London, Magic
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Cabinet of Wonders


  1. Kathleen says:

    Anita, Thanks for letting me know about National Relaxation Day! I might have to cut out of work early to celebrate. For sure I’ll request The Cabinet of Wonders from my library. Happy Relaxation Day!

  2. Anita says:

    Kathleen: Always glad to spread the word about National Relaxation Day!

  3. G.Perry says:

    I love the title of this book and I’m looking for a copy to read now.

    While I’m one who will gently carry a moth back outside and let it go, and see myself as only one of millions of species sharing this planet, I’m not sure how relaxed I could get with a spider living in my hair. I mean, I like critters, but that might just be a step too far for even me. Maybe I could just have a butterfly parked up there?

  4. Anita says:

    Gordon: I like the idea of a mechanical butterfly; fortunately, you don’t have to wear any creature in your hair to enjoy the book!

  5. Book Kvetch says:

    Offspring, who makes pipe cleaner spiders to tuck in her hair, loved this series by Marie Rutkoski!

  6. Anita says:

    Book Kvetch: Thanks for letting me know. I can see why she might have identified with the character.

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