Notice: All forms on this website are temporarily down for maintenance. You will not be able to complete a form to request information or a resource. We apologize for any inconvenience and will reactivate the forms as soon as possible.

The Puppets of Spelhorst

The Puppets of Spelhorst


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

Five puppets—a king, a wolf, a girl, a boy and an owl—hang by fishing line in a toy store. And despite being puppets, they each have dreams of their own. But they’re all in the same story. And that’s more important than they know.

Plot Summary

A king, an owl, a wolf, a boy and a girl were all together in a toy store.

That may sound like the beginning of a bad joke. But in this group’s case, it was perfectly natural. For these five were all puppets—intricately crafted and lovely to see.

They were so lovely, in fact, that, as they hung from fishing line and turned slowly in the air, they drew the attention of an old haggard sea captain. He couldn’t help but stop in front of the store’s window and stare.

In truth though, he only stared at one of them: the girl. That puppet, with its heart-shaped face and beautiful violet eyes, reminded the sea captain of someone he knew, someone he loved and lost so very long ago.

When the captain, named Spelhorst, stepped into the shop to buy the doll, however, he was told that he could not simply buy one. He must buy the set or none. For, the shopkeeper told him, the king, the owl, the wolf, the boy and the girl belonged together. They’re in the same story.

So the old man bought the set. He took them back to his room and dropped four of them into an old trunk with Spelhorst stenciled on its side. He set the pretty girl doll up on a table, sat on his bed and stared. I am sorry. I am sorry, Analise, the sea captain murmured.

Then he wrote a long note, folded it and put it in his trunk. He put his head in his hands. He wept. Then he got into bed, cried himself to sleep and died just before morning.

The girl puppet didn’t think much about that poor old man, however. She simply sat on the table in the dark room, marveling at the large, bright moon outside the window. She had never seen the moon. The others in the nearby trunk wanted to see it as well. But they had to make do with the girl’s description.

Bid it come to me, demanded the king.

You’re not a real king, said the boy. You cannot make commands.

The moon has no master, said the owl wisely.

I will destroy it with my sharp teeth, the wolf growled from the bottom of the puppet heap.

But the truth of the matter was, none of them could do or demand or say anything. For they were all puppets. But they could think, they could dream. And they each had a desire to be great or important in their own way.

Little did they know, however, that by the next morning when the beautiful moon was gone and the bright sun was shining, they would all once again be jumbled together in the old sea captain’s trunk. And they would set off on an unexpected journey.

They would each experience their wildest hopes.

They would be tossed about, separated and abused.

But more importantly, they would work together and make people gasp.

For they—the king, the owl, the wolf, the girl and the boy—were all part of the same soon-beginning story. And they would change a human life.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

We don’t see other formal belief systems here. But The Puppets of Spelhorst do encourage us to think about our values. The book suggests that it’s good to have goals and dreams. And even when something unexpectedly bad happens, it can turn out to be productive. Bad things, the book tells us, can help us value good things. So we shouldn’t be afraid to reach for our dreams. But it warns us to not casually throw away loved ones, for they are even more important than dreams.

Authority Roles

The five puppets are the central characters. But, being puppets, they can’t act on their own. They can only react to the things that happen to them, things they have no control over.

It’s the humans in the story who have control. And they don’t make choices that always benefit these wooden characters. A tailor, for instance, sells Captain Spelhorst’s trunk to a junk dealer. And the puppets go from hand to hand until they end up with a pair of young sisters. One of the girls—the younger sister—separates the puppets and tosses some of them into misadventures.

Even those misadventures, however, have a way of satisfying the puppets’ deepest wishes. For instance, the wolf is incredibly proud of her teeth and longs to run wild in the woods. The young sister pulls some of the wolf’s teeth, then tosses her out. The puppet is grabbed by a fox, who dashes through the forest. That turn of events devastates the wolf puppet, but the romp through the wild wood also fulfills her dream.

The puppets are eventually all gathered back together by the older sister, who writes a play based on Captain Spelhorst’s note. And that play not only confirms positive things for the puppets, but it motivates someone to change their life for the better. Two different people mourn their lost love.

When the puppets find themselves separated, they begin to think about all the things they miss and value about their fellow puppets.

Profanity & Violence

No profanity or alcohol use.

The puppets do find themselves in some perilous situations, however. As mentioned above, the wolf is snatched up by a fox, but then abandoned when the mother fox realizes that it isn’t edible. The boy is taken into the air by a hawk, then dropped. The owl, made of real feathers, is almost discarded as an old feather duster. And, of course, the old sea captain dies early in the story. (But that’s simply a case of old age, or perhaps a broken heart.)

Sexual Content

A story tells of a young man and woman who were deeply in love but lost each other due to someone’s foolish choices.

Discussion Topics

Have you ever considered all the things you really appreciate about the friends or family members in your life? It can be easy to take those people for granted. But if any of them moved away, how would it change your life?

Do you have goals or dreams that seem out of reach or scary to pursue? What do you think this book is saying about reaching for your dreams? On the other hand, the sea captain lost the love of his life. What do you think he did wrong? What would have been a better choice?

Do you ever think that, like the puppets, things happen to you that are out of your control? What does the Bible say about things out of our control? Take a look at Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:12-13. What do you think those verses are telling us?

Get free discussion question for books at

Additional Comments

The Puppets of Spelhorst is the first of the Norendy Tales, author Kate DiCamillo’s planned trio of novellas.

This first entry is a compellingly crafted fairy tale about five puppets. They’re completely passive protagonists, but their journey asks young readers to consider the importance of those around them who they might take for granted.

And the fantasy story makes a multi-pronged declaration: Reaching for dreams takes focused effort. Difficulties can make the going richer. Don’t casually throw away things of value, for if you do, “you will only regret.”

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose