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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

(5th MMGM) The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin (review, guest post, giveaway)

The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin
By Elinor Teele
April 12, 2016
Walden Pond Press
A quirky, humorous, whimsical, and heartwarming middle grade debut about a young boy who runs away from home with his sister to escape working in the family coffin business—and discovers even more adventure than he bargained for.

John Coggin is no ordinary boy. He is devising an invention that nobody has ever seen before, something that just might change the world, or at least make life a little bit better for him and his litter sister, Page. But that’s only when he can sneak a break from his loathsome job: building coffins for the family business under the beady gaze of his cruel great-aunt Beauregard. Having lost their parents when Page was a baby, how else are they supposed to survive?

Perhaps by taking an enormous risk—a risk that arrives in the form of a red-haired scamp named Boz. When Great-Aunt Beauregard informs John that she’s going to make him a permanent partner in Coggin Family Coffins—and train Page to be an undertaker—John and Page sign on with Boz and hit the road. Before long, they’ve fallen in with a host of colorful characters, all of whom, like John and Page, are in search of a place they can call home. But home, they realize, isn’t something you find so much as something you fight for, and John soon realizes that he and Page are in for the fight of their lives.

Elinor Teele’s picaresque debut is a rollicking tale filled with wild adventures, daring escapes, and—thanks to Boz—more than a little catastrophe.

Praise for The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin

A charming fantasy/adventure to add to larger middle grade collections.” School Library Journal

☆ “A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. ” Kirkus Starred Review.

Parent-less and penniless, 11 year-old John Coggin and his six year old sister, Page, must live with their mean Great-Aunt. John is forced to work in the family coffin making business and, while he’s very good at making coffins, he rather be inventing wondrous things. When their Great-Aunt announces that she is making John a partner in the company and will be training Page as an undertaker, the two young Coggins know they must runaway.  With the help of a peculiar man named Boz, John and Page find themselves on a grand adventure full of unexpected people and discoveries.

Elinor Teele’s The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin is an utter delight! This book is so many things- heartfelt, whimsical, quirky, fun, wildly entertaining- and I found myself completely enchanted by its fresh, funny voice and magical storytelling. Teele is a wonderful word weaver and creates a story so full of humor, heart, imagination, and adventure. Young readers will find themselves chuckling at Boz’s oddly charming manners, yearning to join John and Page in their escapades, and swept away by Teele’s superb brand of whimsy.

John and Page find themselves working in a circus, living with the sweetest of bakers, and assisting an oddball archaeologist, during their travels, and each new experience brings a new round of fun adventure, thoughtful lessons, and, of course, colorful new friends and allies. The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin is just bursting with so many eclectic, eccentric, engaging characters for readers to love and laugh with!

my final thoughts: From its spectacular storytelling, unforgettable characters, and sparkly imagination, The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin has everything readers could want (and so much more) in a middle-grade book!

The Germ of an Idea
by Elinor Teele

In the lead-up to the publication of The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin, I’ve been asking my expert panel – kids of my acquaintance – what they’d like to know about an author’s life.

“Can you really wear the same clothes to work everyday?” (Black socks never get dirty.)

“Are you going to have a theme park?” (Probably not.)

The real puzzler came during a visit to my nieces and nephews:

“Where do you get your ideas?”
It’s a well-known question, but it knocked me on my heels. I hadn’t thought about it before. I went home, I shoveled snow, I cleaned the loo, I clipped my toenails, but I was flummoxed. Where did I get my ideas?

After a fair amount of cogitating, I’ve decided that the order of the words is wrong. You don’t get ideas. Ideas get you.

They glom onto you in childhood. They cling to you after conversations. They lurk in dark corners, ignored and forgotten, and invade your brain when you least expect it.

  • The idea for a coffin workshop? My next-door neighbor was part of an undertaking family. Woodworking noises could be heard in his house late at night.

  • The deluge of steam engines and automobiles and things that go BOOM? As a kid, I was a huge fan of Jack Lemmon in The Great Race. (Alas, my Leslie is considerably less debonair that Tony Curtis.)

  • The bakeries of Littlemere? To a girl carrying a 40-pound pack on a raw winter’s day in York, the combined smell of bread, muffins, and pastries was a thing of sheer poetry.

I didn’t write these ideas down before I started my story. I simply began at the beginning and ended at the end. I only realized where they came from after the fact, when editors started asking me about “inspiration.”

This a diverting exercise, to be sure. Only what should I say to the kid who is longing to be an author and just wants some practical advice?

After further cogitating, here’s my answer:

Stay open to infection. It’s a dangerous world out there, and our first instinct is to trap ourselves in bubbles.

But stories grow from unexpected encounters, from listening at doors, from frightening and puzzling and joyful experiences. Live a full life, read as much as you can, and pay attention to other people’s tales.

And don’t worry – the ideas will get you.


1/2 Brit and 1/2 Yankee, Elinor Teele currently resides in New England. She lived with her family in New Zealand for eight years and still considers it a beloved homeland.
In 2000, Elinor took a slow plane to England for doctoral work in Anglo-Saxon literature at the University of Cambridge. She wrote her thesis on the Old English Riddles, a compilation of bawdy and lyrical poems in the language of Beowulf. She graduated with a PhD in 2005.
To earn her daily bread, she is a freelance copywriter with her own business, Squam Creative Services. Website * Facebook

Win a signed copy of
The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin!
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-ends 4/3
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anne s. said...

Looks like a great adventure to pass to our middle school daughter. Thanks!

Geo Librarian said...

Sounds like a thoroughly entertaining story!

Slowsly said...

An interesting idea! The characters sound terrific.

Carl Scott said...

This looks like a really fun book. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

Caitlin said...

This book looks so good. Thank you for the giveaway.