Reviews

Once Upon a Time: The Wishing Spell; The Land of Stories, Book 1

Colfer, Chris. Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. Little, Brown, and Company, 2012. 438 pages. Hardcover $16.20, ISBN 978-0-316-20157-5; Tr. $8.54, ISBN 978-0-316-20156-8; PLB $13.71, ISBN 978-1-48985-276-2

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Fantasy/Fairytale Retellings

 

Part of a series? Yes — The Land of Stories series

 

Plot Summary:

Twins Alex and Conner Bailey couldn’t be more different. Alex loves school and homework, and Conner struggles with classwork, accidentally napping instead of listening when his teacher talks. To make matters worse, life at home continues to drag the twins down. After losing their father the year before in a car accident, the kids have had to move out of their beloved home and into a rental down the street. Their mother has to work long hours to pay bills, and their grandmother cannot spend as much time with them as they would like. To their surprise, they get a real birthday treat when their grandmother comes to visit. She gives them her beloved copy of The Land of Stories, a book filled with the fairy tales that had united the family when they visited her at her home. Within the week, however, the book begins glowing and vibrating, and the twins find themselves literally pulled into the book! Will Conner and Alex ever get back home, or will they live in the Land of Stories forever? Furthermore, will the characters in the book be just like they’ve always imagined, or will they be more complicated?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

An engaging read, The Wishing Spell is the first in a series that I literally cannot keep on my shelves. Kids are always checking out a volume, and I am peppered with questions during library time about whether or not I have certain books (and when they’ll get back!). With such enthusiasm for the series in my own library, I knew I had to give it a shot. Colfer’s use of familiar fairy tale figures is inventive, and readers with any familiarity with these characters will enjoy new interpretations. Conner has a smart mouth that provides comedic relief as well as getting them out of tough spots, and Alex’s cleverness helps them escape risky moments, too. The text could be clunky at times, and events were either much more complicated or resolved far too quickly for the story’s demands, but overall, it was an enjoyable read.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a super fun book club book, especially since so many readers at varying levels have read the books. Rewriting our own fairy tales would be a great activity, especially if we could connect them or have the same protagonists moving through each story on their own question. It wouldn’t be quite an “exquisite corpse” game, but rather, we could assign the group the names and basic qualities of our protagonists, and use those characters in each of our retellings. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Review referenced:

Eisenhart, M. (n. d.). The wishing spell: The Land of Stories, Book 1 (Review of the book The Wishing Spell). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-wishing-spell-the-land-of-stories-book-1#

 

Reviews

Of Mice and Music and Darkness and Thread and Soup: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

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DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereaux. Candlewick, 2003. 272 pages. Paperback $17.99 ISBN 9780763617226

I am SO LATE TO THIS PARTY.

Despereaux is named for the despair he causes his mother at his birth — the only of the mouse litter to survive, he is also born with his eyes open, marking him from the very beginning as “different.” While the mouse community sees his differences as negative ones — ultimately banishing him from their society — the narrator helps readers to see that Despereaux’s “lack of conformity” is the very thing that makes him our little mousie hero. Despereaux braves certain death, rats, darkness, and a cook’s knife on his quest for the one he loves … will he be successful?

DiCamillo’s narration is gorgeous; it feels as though someone is sitting beside you, telling you the whole tale. The “Coda” at the end of the book reinforces this feeling, as the narrator asks that we imagine that we are like Gregory the jailer listening to Despereaux’s story in the dark. Truly, this book fills up a reader like light can brighten a bad day and soup can warm a person. This would be a fantastic book for book clubs or reader’s theatre — encouraging students to swap turns as narrator and perhaps having students “act out” the characters could be a lot of fun. There is also a great deal of space to discuss universal truths — fear, goodness, kindness, bravery — when reading through this book in a group. Despereaux is often fearful, but he works through his fear for the good of others. Roscuro is no doubt a bad guy … but we can see what made him that way. DiCamillo’s small lesson on “empathy” is perfectly packaged and will make for some great class or club discussions.