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The Thief Lord

There are many stories about children who don't want to grow up, famous stories like 'Peter Pan' or 'Pippi Longstocking'. But is there one about children who want nothing more but to grow up? Children who can't wait to be allowed to do all the things only adults can do?

I was such a child. I desperately wanted to be an adult (and I still find it quite exciting today). So one day I had the idea of writing a story about a boy who has the same dream and who even pretends to be an adult.

Where I got this idea? In Venice, of course. Where else? And so the story is set in this wonderful and mysterious town. Venice is an enchanted place, but it is also very real. It's nothing like Hogwarts or Middle Earth, because you too can travel to Venice. You can touch it, smell it, and taste it. I wanted children to know that such a place really exists in this world and that the real world can be just as enchanting as our beloved fantasy worlds.

I often get letters from children who have travelled to Venice and who have taken the story of Scipio, Bo, Prosper, Hornet, Mosca, and Riccio with them. They write to me: "Cornelia, Venice is exactly like you described it. I just couldn't find the roundabout! And where is that cinema?" But if you found that magic merry-go-round, would you take a ride on it?

Yes, The Thief Lord is about a magic merry-go-round. It is about a gang of homeless children who live their lives without adults. Their home is a deserted cinema in the heart of Venice. It is also about their leader, Scipio, who calls himself The Thief Lord. And it is about two brothers who, after their mother's death, have run away from Hamburg to escape their horrible aunt and uncle. Esther and Max Hartlieb want to adopt sweet little Bo and send Prosper to a boarding school. And so the story ends up also being about Victor, a private detective, who is hired by the Hartliebs to find the boys. And about Victor's tortoises, the mysterious Conte, a wooden lion's wing, a crook who dyes his beard red – and it is about a forbidden island.

Well, see for youself. Follow Prosper, Hornet and Bo into the star palace – if you can remember the password, that is!

The Thief Lord

Audiobook

Age 9 + • 352 pages • Published 2002Chicken House Scholastic

Extract

A water rat scuttled away as the children felt their way along the narrow passage. It led to a canal, like many of Venice's alleys and passages. Hornet, Prosper, and Bo, however, only followed it as far as a metal door set in the windowless wall to their right. Someone had painted 'Vietato Ingresso' in clumsy letters on it – No Entry. The door had once been one of the cinema's emergency exits. Now it was the entrance to a hiding place that only six children knew anything about. Next to the door was a cord and Prosper gave it two strong tugs. He waited for a moment and then pulled it once more. This was their sign, but it still took quite a while until something happened. Bo stepped impatiently from one foot to the other. Finally, the door opened just a crack and a suspicious voice asked: 'Password?'

'Come on, Riccio, you know we never remember the stupid password,' Prosper grumbled angrily. Hornet stepped up to the door and hissed through it. 'Do you see these bags in my hands, Hedgehog? I just dragged them all the way from the Rialto market. My arms are as long as a monkey's, so open the door!' Riccio opened the door, looking very worried. 'Okay, okay. But only if Prosper doesn't tell Scipio again, like last time.'

Riccio was quite a scrawny boy and at least a head shorter than Prosper, although he wasn't much younger than him. At least that's what he claimed. His brown hair always stuck out from his head in every direction, earning him the nickname Riccio the Hedgehog. 'No one can remember Scipio's passwords!' Hornet muttered as she pushed past him. ' And anyway, the special ring is enough.' 'Scipio doesn't think so.' Riccio carefully pushed the bolt across the door. 'Well, then he should make up passwords we can remember. Can you remember the last one?' Riccio scratched his spiky head. 'Hold on ... Catago … Diddledoo … East. Or something like that.' Hornet rolled her eyes. Bo sniggered. Riccio walked ahead, shining the way with his torch. 'We've already started cleaning up.' he said. 'But we haven't got far. Mosca just wants to fiddle with his radio all the time. And until an hour ago we were standing in front of the Palazzo Pisani. I really don't know why Scipio had to pick such a palace of all places for his next raid. There's something going on in there nearly every night: parties, receptions, dinners – all the posh families of Venice seem to be in and out of there all the time. Beats me how Scipio thinks he can get in there!' Prosper shrugged.

So far the Thief Lord had not asked him and Bo to stake out one of his targets, although Bo kept begging him to. It was usually Riccio and Mosca who were sent to check out the houses Scipio planned to 'visit' at night. Scipio had a name for the two of them: he called them 'his eyes'. Hornet's task was to make sure that the money from his raids was not spent too quickly. Prosper and Bo, as the Thief Lord's most recent charges, had so far only been allowed to come along when the loot was sold or, like today, to do some shopping. Prosper didn't mind that at all. Bo, however, would have loved to sneak with Scipio into the city's poshest houses and to steal all the amazing things the Thief Lord always brought back from his raids.

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