Ellen Raskin was one of my favorite authors as a kid, so after the success of reading The Phantom Tollbooth with my kids, I was eager to share her books with them as well. The first book we read was The Mysterious Disappearence of Leon (I Mean Noel). It led to much laughter with the word play and ridiculous situations, and we kept notes of clues to try to figure out the mystery of the “glub-blubs.”
It’s definitely a “just go with it” kind of plot—it honestly makes no sense at all, and trying to enforce sense on it will just be an exercise in frustration (not that some of the characters don’t try!). I could try to explain, but suffice it to say that the plot is all about solving the issue presented in the title. The book is also rather dated—the advent of the internet would have rendered many of their research methods irrelevant.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The Carillons and the Fishes invented a soup together. When it became successful, they argued over who had the rights to it. To solve the argument, they married Leon Carillon—aged 7—to Caroline Fish—aged 5. Since “Caroline Carillon” was too much of a mouthful, the child bride was thereafter known as “Mrs. Carillon.” Leon was promptly sent away to boarding school, to return when both children were old enough to be married. (No, it wasn’t consummated, in case you were wondering—in fact, the couple never lives together at all. It’s plenty weird but not quite creepy.)
Early in the book, the parents of Leon (I mean Noel) and Mrs. Carillon all die abruptly when the boiler in the soup factory explodes. It feels more humorous than tragic, especially since they were all rather awful people and even worse parents.
After spending the entire book searching for Noel, he dies in a ridiculous accident just as they find him. We’ve never really met him, but he’s been a motivation throughout the story and it feels like he’s an active character. Although it just felt like a cop out to me, my daughter was (and weeks later still is) really bothered by it. She was saddened and somewhat betrayed by the sudden turn of events.
The Carillon and Fish parents are more focused on their soup fortune than on their kids. They fight constantly and ignore their children—they die on Mrs. Carillon’s 12th birthday, which she’s spending alone because they’ve forgotten about her.
Mrs. Carillon believes herself married and spends her life trying to find her husband Leon (I mean Noel). Along the way she adopts 11 year old twins—Tina and Tony—who join her search for Noel. Eventually they convince her to settle down in New York City.
They all form a sort of odd family along with Mr. Banks who controls the soup fortune for Mrs. Carillon (and often seems like the only functioning adult), Mrs. Baker who is their cook, and Augie Kunkel who is a childhood friend (his father was the foreman of the soup factory and also died in the explosion). There’s some tension along the way, but even the blustery Mr. Banks seems to care what happens to everyone.
The twins have sips of wine at Thanksgiving dinner. No one makes a big deal about it.
There are some mild prods about social inequity such as when Tony gets upset that Augie’s dad wasn’t better compensated for the role he played in making the soup successful. Mrs. Carillon ends up in jail and Tina and Tony find some hippy protestors to help them get her out.
With illustrations, short sections with humorous headers, and lots of funny footnotes, this might be a good book for reluctant readers. It’s rather dated, which could pose some problems, and it’s definitely best to just go along for the silly ride. The length and general readability make it suitable for advanced 8 year olds and up, but younger readers especially might need some guidance through the convoluted plot. It’s a decent read aloud as you can fill in some gaps, although I never did figure out the best way to smoothly include the footnotes.
The Mysterious Disappearence of Leon (I Mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin
Published in 1971 by Avon Books
Read my beat up and well read copy aloud to my kids