After a terrifically hard and terribly disappointing day before the Fourth of July, Peanut Johnson, wandering aimlessly down Main Street, stumbles upon The Capital Z, a This and That Shop. Stepping inside, he meets Mr. Aloysious Zip, the kind and eccentric shopkeeper, who introduces Peanut to a most extraordinary place. There are toys and trinkets, model cars and miniature wagon trains, even memorabilia from days gone by. Discovering the wonders of The Capital Z, Peanut finds not only anything and everything a young boy could imagine or want, but also history unfolding before his very eyes. Touching a Kentucky rifle hanging on the shop wall, he is transported to the wilderness where he sees his Great-Great-Great-Great Uncle Milkweed Johnson fighting in Andrew Jackson's regiment during the War of 1812. George Washington's sword brings Peanut onto the battlefield where the General, on horseback, dodges bullet after bullet. And while staring at a beautiful stained-glass window depicting the building of the Tower of Babel, Peanut finds himself in a crowd of angry and confused spectators, all speaking a different language! But Peanut's visit to The Capital Z turns out to be much more than a journey through history. As he peers into the past with his Uncle Milkweed and some of America's greatest leaders, he finds courage and hope to face his own mistakes, taking his first steps from boyhood to those of a young man.
Young Peanut Johnson is feeling pretty bummed after a Fourth of July incident that has him in proverbial hot water with his parents. He's walking around town, kicking rocks and feeling sorry for himself when he comes across an unusual and eye-catching business he doesn't remember seeing before. Once inside, he meets proprietor Aloysius Zip. His place, The Capital Z, turns out to be a museum of sorts, all sorts of historical pieces to spark discussion among visitors. Mr. Zip confesses that much of what appears to be artifacts are actually what he calls "historical reminders" (ie. replicas) of the real thing. However, Peanut quickly sees that there is true magic in the Capital Z. Once talk on a particular piece begins, visitors are actually transported back in time to that historical moment, giving them the opportunity to witness history for themselves and see the historical figures in the flesh! One such "reminder" of Mr. Zip's is a rifle that belonged to Peanut's great-great-great-great uncle, Milkweed Johnson (there is an explanation within the novel regarding all the unusual names in Peanut's family, by the way).
This is a short little middle-grade read with very little explanation on the back cover, so I went into it not quite knowing what to expect. I was pleased to find such a sweet and touching story that blends important moral lessons with historical teachings! The tone somewhat reminded me of a mix of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Mr. Magorium's Magic Emporium. Peanut learns about various important moments in history -- such as George Washington and that bitter winter in Valley Forge, Andrew Jackson and his part in the War of 1812, as well as some biblical history on the Ark, Tower of Babel, etc -- and sees how even though many of these figures are revered now, in their time they were just like any mortal man today, sometimes full of self-doubt and capable of making incredibly poor choices that detrimentally impacted the lives of many around them.
While the stories themselves are definitely fast-paced and entertaining, and enhanced by the delightful sketches done by Kimberly Palmer's husband, Jerry, I think this story also provides young readers with the important lesson that we are only human. No one gets life right 100% of the time. It's okay to make mistakes from time to time as long as you strive to be an honest, caring, empathetic person in general. It also teaches that it's important to be upfront and honest when you realize you've made a mistake and do your best to set things right as soon as possible after the fact. Learning these lessons early on will likely empower young readers, helping them grow up to become confident, educated adults with generous spirits. Something the world can only benefit from! I am eager to see how the story of Mr. Zip and his teachings continue with the second (yet to be released) installment, Lucy Jane Pennywhistle Comes Home.
You can peruse the Mr Zip book blog here.
There are also a couple videos available:
Mr Zip And The Capital Z book trailer (personally, I found the trailer a little cheezy, but putting it here for anyone interested)
FTC Disclaimer: BookCrash.com kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.