Wooden Bones, by Scott William Carter

So at the end of the original story of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet is a truly alive little boy, living happily ever after with his kindly father, Gepetto. Or perhaps not.

In Wooden Bones (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, August,2012) Scott William Carter tells the story of what happens to Pino next. Happy ever after doesn't happen quite yet....

Pino wants to be a normal boy, but, almost as if he were autistic, he struggles to understand the nuance of human emotion and social mores. But he making progress...though his effort to bring back Gepetto's lost wife as a animate wooden puppet ends up creating a monster. And then there are those in the village desperate to have their own lost loved ones given new form in living wood...and Gepetto and Pino are forced to flee into the dark forest to escape their anger when their wishes aren't granted.

As Pino and Gepetto travel, they meet others who would use Pino's gift to make their dreams come true--the paralyzed young priestess of a tree dwelling community, and a singer whose face was horribly disfigured by her husband. But though Pino reluctantly works his magic, happy endings are hard to come by. And as Pino works to make wood come alive for others, he watches as his own body turns slowly back into wood...

It's not until Pino uses his gift for himself, to save Gepetto out of a panic of love and fear, that he becomes once more fully human.

(At which point, I wonder if I missed the point, because what I was left with is the moral "coerced gifts make the giver less human," and that seems quite possibly true, but rather unexpected.)

But in any event, I read this slim book in a single sitting, not entirely convinced by the oddness of Pinocchio's sojourn with the tree dwellers and their magically gifted priestess (this was not what I expected in a historic Italian setting), but still very interested none the less in how Pino's story would turn out.

It's the sort of book that reads as a fairy tale for grown ups (it's complex enough to have adult appeal), as much as it does as a straight children's book, and so it's tricky to recommend to any particular demographic. It's straightforward enough (some people's confusion about the moral aside) for a child to read it and enjoy it, though the motivations of the characters who want Pino's gift to make them happy are perhaps rather adult--bring back dead children, be free of a life spent helplessly serving a community that demands too much, to return to the stage and be an adored star again). The child reader might well have more tolerance for the somewhat episodic arc of the story, and might also find the tree-dwellers more appealing than I did! And working strongly in the book's favor is that Pino is a very likable, even loveable, character, whose easy to empathize with.

So if you are interested in books that expand old stories, and take them new or strange places, this might well appeal, and there are doubtless child readers that will find it magical as well, though it might be a hard sell.


  1. Well, I agree that coerced gifts can be soul-destroying, which I guess can be like making you less human. It all sounds like a better version of Rainbow Fish, where the fish is forced to peel off all his scales to make the rest of the school accept him. Of course, in that book, that makes him happy.

    Does it feel like Philip Pullman's fairy tales, in terms of sophistication?

    1. Rainbow Fish....shudder.

      Pullman of course is setting a rather high bar...this doesn't read in the same way. It's a lot shorter, and more direct than the Northern Lights books.


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