The Traveling Restaurant by Barbara Else is a book written in three parts telling the story of Jasper Ludlow. Jasper is a young man who has just turned twelve at the time the story opens. He lives with his parents and baby sister Sibilla in the land of Fontania. We know that something isn’t right when the story opens and Jasper meets a stranger at the door who inquires about Jasper’s age. His mother, Lady Helen, quickly intervenes to tell this journalist that Jasper is 11 while Jasper tries to tell people that he’s really 12. Shortly afterwards we’re introduced to Lady Gall, the “provisional monarch” of the land. We see that she rules with an iron fist as a young boy interrupts her speech and guards quickly move in to make their presence known and quell further interruptions.
Jasper’s family attends a big party thrown by Lady Gall and while there Jasper sees Lady Gall feed his little sister something. She becomes sick after that and Jasper tries to tell his parents that Lady Gall gave her something, but can hardly believe that someone would intentionally make his sister sick. Jasper’s uncle comes to the house and things quickly escalate with the family trying to leave before Lady Gall comes for them. Jasper gets separated from his family and ends up aboard The Traveling Restaurant, a boat that seems to have m-gic (the word that should not be spoken for fear of Lady Gall’s retribution) properties. The Restaurant seems to be able to escape danger and keep its passengers safe while its quirky crew do all they can to throw off any interest in their boat/restaurant.
Ms. Else takes us on a great ride through the land of Fontania to slowly reveal more about Jasper, his family, the people he meets along the way, why magic is a forbidden word, and why Jasper is running in the first place. The characters may seem slightly silly at times, but fit well with the story. I never felt that there were contrived moments to move the story forward. We’re taken on a journey that has a great pace to introduce the characters and back-story.
As an adult reader, some of the names for things felt slightly silly, but they worked well with the story. I read this to my daughter and she ate it up. She wanted to know what happened next and it was a hard book to put down when reading together. There were a couple of longer chapters in the book, but they were generally a good length to read one or two before bed. I didn’t have to worry too much about language or scenes that were too intense for a young child which was great for me as a parent. There was just enough silliness in the story to have my daughter rolling a couple of times, but balanced with the story telling to keep her interested in the people and their plight. I’m going to go with the kid’s rating for this and say that it was a good book for later Elementary ages and up.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy with no expectations on the part of the publisher. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced in any way by the publisher.