At the beginning of Any Which Wall, Laurel Snyder’s second middle-grade novel, four bored children while away the summer, wistful for the kind of magic that only happens in books. They’ve been reading Edward Eager, author of the 1954 uber-classic Half Magic, which also begins with bored children yearning for something, anything exciting to happen.
And those children—the kids in Half Magic—have been reading E. Nesbit, the mother of all adventure writers (The Railway Children, Five Children and It, etc.) and the model for Eager himself. Any Which Wall then, is the second degree of separation from Nesbit to Eager to Snyder, and the new book holds up well in such august company.
Magic is actually quite common, as we are told by the chatty, no-nonsense narrator who has not forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. “Common magic” is what can happen to characters lucky enough to be bored, be together, have excellent taste in literature and have parents too busy to interfere. Such as Emma, six years old; her brother Henry, a rising fifth grader; Henry’s best friend Roy; and Roy’s older sister Susan. Susan is charged with looking after the younger ones, but does not do a great job keeping anyone out of trouble. The trouble starts at the end of a path through an Iowa cornfield, where a bizarre, gigantic stone wall launches adventures accidental and on purpose. As in Half Magic, each kid gets a turn, and each kid discovers the power of words. “Be careful what you wish for” has never been such an apt caution: wordplay and syntactical imprecision make for unexpected (and funny) plot twists. Also look for the funky, retro-feel illustrations by LeUyen Phem: magical in their own right.
Perfectly timed for a summer release, Any Which Wall should handily alleviate boredom for young readers, and keep us all wishing for a sequel. Of course, the ultimate accolade would be a book written by someone in the next generation of children’s authors, and which begins with bored characters wistful for the kind of magic in Any Which Wall.
Joanna Brichetto still owns the copy of Half Magic she first read 34 years ago (price: 75 cents). Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #3
One summer day, sibling pairs Henry and Emma, Roy and Susan stumble upon a magical wish-granting wall. Faster than you can say "root beer float," the hot and sticky kids find themselves whisked to a diner for some cool treats. After a bit of trial and error, the friends figure out the wall's magic and begin their explorations. First stop is a visit with Merlin, who explains more of the rules and proclaims, "Magic transforms you." Not surprisingly, Merlin's message proves prophetic: little Emma, perceived as helpless, frees the older kids from a dungeon; brash Henry curbs his greed after tousling with an opportunistic (but scaredy-cat) pirate; introvert Roy takes decisive action in the Old West; and Susan, on the cusp of adolescence, regains her appreciation of play and wonder after reuniting with her best friend. Throughout, an omniscient (occasionally obtrusive) narrator instructs readers, reflecting this contemporary-set story's old-fashioned sensibility, also seen in Pham's black-and-white line art. Snyder acknowledges her debt to Edward Eager; fans of Jeanne Birdsall's Penderwick books will also be pleased. The tale's tame episodic exploits and pervasive sense of idyll gracefully reinforce the narrator's assertion that "fun does matter. It matters a lot." Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2009 April #2
Susan, Henry, Roy and Emma stumble upon a wall in the oddest of places--the middle of a cornfield. To their delight, it turns out to be wishing wall, complete with a key, capable of whisking them away to fascinating times and places. It's not all fun and games, though, at least not at first. The kids have to puzzle out how the magic works and then contend with some mysterious visions granted to them by none other than the famous Merlin. The visions, along with the particular wishes each child makes, unfold into a unique life lesson for each of the children. Unfortunately, these lessons can feel a little contrived, particularly when it comes to Susan, the oldest of the group, who is desperately trying to grow up without losing the childlike qualities of imagination and adventure that are a fundamental part of her spirit. Nonetheless, the fast-paced plot and glib narrator--fond of making asides--will keep readers turning pages and looking for magic in their own corners of the world. (Fantasy. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2009 August/September
This magical story is sure to please any reader with its adventurous story line. Six-year- old Emma and her 10-year-old brother Henry spend the summer days playing with his best friend Roy while being supervised by Roy?s 12-year-old sister Susan. One day they encounter a huge wall in the middle of a cornfield and discover that it is magical. When their hands are placed upon it, they can wish for it to transport them to any other wall in time. The children experience a series of adventures where they meet Merlin and Guinevere in Camelot, a gunslinger in pioneer Iowa, Blackbeard the Pirate?s son, and even a former best friend in current New York City. The adventures teach them a little something about themselves and each other. The story is engaging and even includes a perky librarian. Children will find it easy to relate to at least one of the main characters as they are well-defined with their own unique personalities. The descriptions of the locations they travel to are informative and realistic without detracting from the storyline. This highly engaging story will entertain a variety of students. Recommended. Lynn Christiansen, Library Media Specialist, Armstrong Elementary, Conroe, Texas ¬ 2009 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
School Library Journal Reviews 2009 June
Gr 3-6--During an Iowa summer, two sets of sibling neighbors--first-grader Emma and fifth-grader Henry, fifth-grader Roy and seventh-grader Susan--are getting bored. Luckily, adventure looms in the shape of a huge wall in the middle of a cornfield. When the children discover that it is magic and figure out its rules and parameters, they are transported to Merlin's castle, the American frontier, the home of "the worst pirate in the world," modern-day New York City, and an ice-cream shop and a movie theater. This book begins with a quote from Edward Eager's Seven-Day Magic (Houghton, 1999) and, as in his fantasies, the charm of the story lies not just in the magic, but also in how four kids figure out how it works, what to do with it, and how to get along at the same time. That magic, like everything else, has consequences is made clear to the youngsters, especially when their adventures saddle them with a large, wounded, lovable, homeless dog to take care of. Snyder's fresh, down-to-earth voice is complemented by Pham's energetic illustrations, which seem at once retro and modern. Fantasy fans will enjoy this novel, but so will readers who like stories about ordinary kids.--Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library[Page 138]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.