Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

Jun 28, 2016

Two years ago, I was really into the Newbery and stayed really current with all the trending books. (I have not been doing nearly as well this year--the only contenders I can think of off the top of my head are Wolf Hollow and Pax, neither of which I've read (yet).) Anyway, one of the books that kept popping up on everyone's lists two years ago was The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. It didn't end up winning anything, but I kept it on my to-read list anyway because it sounded like a great choice for a future October read.

I still haven't made time for it, but a few months ago, Carolyn mentioned Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, which was actually Jonathan Auxier's first book. It sounded decidedly less creepy than The Night Gardener (I can be a bit of wimp sometimes), and it also seemed like the perfect summer read to hand to Aaron. I didn't want to miss out on the fun though, so I read it, too, and I think it's going to be one of those books I'm recommending to every 8-12 year-old (and their parents too!) that I know. It was just such a good, fun read.

As an infant, Peter Nimble (christened such "after a misremembered nursery rhyme") had his eyes pecked out by a raven as he floated in a basket in the ocean. Not exactly the sweet and soothing beginning most babies hope for, but Peter's quick fingers, adept at untying knots and popping locks and slipping into pockets, soon attract the attention of one Mr. Seamus, who forces the blind boy into a life of crime. Between Mr. Seamus' training and Peter's natural talents, he soon becomes really good at stealing things, which earns him the title "the greatest thief who ever lived" (although he doesn't know it).

One day, he comes upon a haberdasher, who is trying to sell hats to a group of unimpressed customers. Peter helps him win them over and then does a little "looking" around for himself (not with his eyes, but with his hands). The haberdasher's carriage is well-locked, which just makes Peter all the more intrigued (he can't resist an intricate lock), and when he breaks in, he passes up the bag of money for a small wooden box. There's nothing special about the box itself, but he senses that there's something valuable inside.

When he gets back to Mr. Seamus', he examines the contents of the box, which he thinks are six eggs, but which actually turn out to be three pairs of eyes: a gold pair, a black pair, and a green pair. When he slips the gold pair into his sockets, he instantly vanishes from the port town where he has lived all his life and ends up struggling for air in the Troublesome Lake.

And that is how his adventure begins.

I love good characters and an exciting plot, but the more I read, the more I realize it's the writing that contributes the most to my overall enjoyment (or, on the flip side, dislike). In someone else's hands, Peter Nimble's story might have still been creative and fast-paced, but in Jonathan Auxier's, it shone. The narrator's voice had me hooked from the first page. Not only were there frequent nods and winks to the reader (one of my favorite literary devices), but he just captured the true essence of Peter, without which the book would have fallen flat.

For example, about midway through the book, the narrator breaks through the fourth wall to say,
"By now you have witnessed how truly gifted Peter Nimble is, despite his handicap. You have heard him referred to as a master thief by multiple authorities, and you have seen him work his way out of numerous dangerous situations. You may be thinking that his blindness is no handicap at all, and that it somehow gives him an advantage over the average seeing person. Some of you may even be thinking to yourselves, 'Boy! I wish I were blind like the great Peter Nimble!' If you are thinking that, stop right now. Because whatever benefits you may believe that blindness carries with it, you must understand that there are just as many disadvantages."
This was one of my favorite scenes because it had been set up so well. By this point, you really are thinking Peter Nimble is extremely talented and not at all hindered by his inability to see. All of his other senses are so fine-tuned that he doesn't seem to need his eyes at all. But in the next paragraph (which I won't spoil for you here), you see exactly why eyes are sometimes so necessary, and it's almost chilling the way the narrator lets you in on a impending betrayal that Peter is completely unaware of.

Fantasy is not my favorite genre, as any frequent reader of this blog is well aware, and that is why I know it's because of the writing that I loved this story as much as I did. There are times when I had to suspend my belief just a little bit more than I wanted to (usually Peter notices the slightest change in the air or the most imperceptible sound, but then, there are moments when his concentration slips for just a moment and he overlooks something he shouldn't have missed), but it was well worth it.

Peter begins the book as a lowly blind beggar who survives by stealing things for his "benefactor." By the end of the book, he has grown into a confident and intelligent leader, one who makes split-second decisions and inspires confidence. There are many adventures and dangers and mistakes that make this transformation happen, and it's pretty fun to be along for the ride. (Peter also happens to have one of the best sidekicks of all time, which didn't hurt.)

Aaron loved this book too, and I might have let him stay up past 11:00pm to finish it. Having already finished it myself, I knew what the ending was like and couldn't imagine leaving him hanging until morning. This is what summer is all about anyway. Now he's telling Maxwell he has to read it (even though I'm pretty sure he's already spilled the majority of plot twists and nail-biting scenes). I think it's a bit long for Max to read on his own, so the audio is probably in store for us.

Since finishing it, I've been mulling over what rating to give it. It wasn't life-changing, but three of the questions I ask myself when determining a five-star book are: Would I buy my own copy? (yes, I already did), Would I recommend it? (yes, to everyone I've talked to in the last week--sorry!), and Would I want Mike or my kids to read it? (yes, all of them). So I think that's my answer (and all of yours, too: read it).  (I also think The Night Gardener just shot to the top of my October reading list.)

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Do you have a recommendation for another book Aaron and I would both enjoy?


  1. Is it scary? Are there details of the eyes being pecked out? Colton is pretty sensitive and gets scared easily. Should I hold off giving it to him?

    1. The eyes getting pecked out is definitely not graphic or scary in any way, so you don't need to worry about that. However, there are some scary parts later on in the book that you might want to be cautious about (sea serpents, monstrous apes, wicked thieves, etc.)

  2. Once again SunlitPages did not let us down! We just finished listening to this on our epic road trip and my 8 year old has declared it his favorite book. To quote him "it has three things I really like in books: mystery, magic and adventure". Every time we got in the car, no matter how short, he would start chanting "Peter nimble, Peter nimble". We adults also enjoyed it very much. My 4 year old didn't really appreciate it as much, but luckily I think some of the scary bits went over her head. Thanks for the suggestion!!

    1. Yay, yay, yay (and one not-so-yay :-))! I'm glad your family enjoyed it as much as ours did! I bought the audio on Audible soon after Aaron and I finished, and I probably don't even need to tell you that Maxwell is now OBSESSED with it. So fun! I'm giving Aaron the sequel for his birthday (shhhhh!).


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