A.M. Morgen’s fascinating debut novel “The Inventors at No. 8” published this week. Here’s a summary:
Meet George, the third Lord of Devonshire and the unluckiest boy in London. Why is George so unlucky? First, he’s an orphan. Second, unless he sells everything, he’s about to lose his house. So when his family’s last heirloom, a priceless map to the Star of Victory (a unique gem said to bring its owner success in any battle) is stolen by a nefarious group of criminals, George knows that there is no one less lucky-or more alone-than he is.
That is until Ada Byron, the future Countess of Lovelace, bursts into his life. She promises to help George recover his family legacy, and is determined to find her own father along the way–all in a flying machine she built herself. Joined by a mischievous orangutan and the long-lost son of an infamous pirate, Ada and George take off on a cross-continent journey through the skies that will change their lives, and perhaps the world, forever.
And now a few words from A.M. about the phenomenon of automotons!
Before I started writing my debut novel, Inventors at No. 8, I didn’t know what an automaton was. Now, I’m mildly obsessed with them! And judging by the number of kid’s books that feature automatons, I’m not the only author who finds them fascinating.
If you’re not yet familiar with what an automaton is, here’s a brief description: An automaton is a non-electronic machine shaped like a human or animal that follows a pre-determined set of movements. Basically, it’s the clockwork version of a robot. If you had a jack-in-the-box as a kid, then you’ve played with a very simple automaton. Complex automatons have been made that can play musical instruments, write letters, and draw pictures.
Fictional portrayals of automatons can be an interesting indication of how society is reacting to advances in technology. Most often automatons are associated with steampunk or Victorian fiction, but because they have been around for over a thousand years, automatons could be part of any setting from ancient Greece to the present day. These machines can help set the tone of a story depending on whether they are amusing or helpful or sinister.
Have I piqued your interest in automatons? If you’re looking for a great STEM project to do with kids, there are kits you can buy to make your own wooden automatons. Or, you can read about them in books like these:
This book has lots of gears and lots of creepiness. 13-year-old Natalie lives in a small Missouri town in the early 1900s where she loves tinkering on automatons and riding the very fast bicycle her father built for her (the boneshaker). When a traveling medicine show arrives in town, Natalie is intrigued by its perpetual motion automatons. But the show has also brought something sinister, and Natalie seems to be the only who can stop it before it’s too late.
This book has three main characters whose stories become intertwined. Frederick is an apprentice clockmaker in an American steampunk city in the late 1800s. He needs a head to finish off the body of the automaton he’s made. Together with Giuseppe, a street musician, and Hannah, a maid, the three new friends find the perfect head for Frederick’s automaton and bring it to life.
Cogheart is set in a steampunk version of Victorian London. Lily and her fox automaton, Malkin, set off on a search to find Lily’s missing father, a genius inventor. They are joined by the son of a clockmaker as they all try to stay one step ahead of creepy silver-eyed men. The book is full of mystery as well as fun inventions like steam-powered zeppelins.
In this fantasy version of Venice in the late 1700s, automatons perform most tasks for the idle wealthy. It’s the job of the poor to wind up the automatons every night while the rich sleep. The city is ruled by Fogfinger, who uses his knowledge of clockwork to spy on citizens and keep them in line. As part of his reign of terror, every year, one Venetian child is chosen to meet the Fate in the Box, an automaton which decides if they live or die. This year, a few children band together to put an end to Fogfinger once and for all. This is the fourth of Lovric’s series of novels set in Venice that begins with The Undrowned Child.
You won’t find a book with more automatons than this one. It’s pretty much stuffed from basement to attic with them…literally. The main character in this beautifully illustrated novel lives in a Paris train station in the 1930s where he keeps the station’s clocks running. One day he finds an old automaton in the ruins of a museum inside the station and tries to fix it. The automaton is based on a real automaton called “The Writer” and many of the details of the book are inspired by the life of Georges Méliès, a pioneering filmmaker who used automatons in his live shows and movies.
A.M. Morgen comes from a long line of engineers and researchers but chose to pursue literature over the laboratory. To her family’s surprise, she has managed to make a decent living as an editor with her English degree. In her spare time, A.M. enjoys taking long walks in the forest, trying out new hobbies (then abandoning them), and complaining about her mean cat. Despite what you may think, A.M. is not a morning person.
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