Wow! I just read two books for my “job” as a panelist for the Middle Grade Fiction Cybils, and they were both fantastic. Only it turns out that we’re not allowed any, or not much, magic in our category. Both of the books I read were nominated in the Middle Grade Fiction category but got moved to Science FIction/Fantasy. Heads up to that other judging panel: the following two books are absolutely wonderful. Read them first. (Yes, I am openly trying to influence the judges and all you readers out there. What’s the FTC going to do about it? I got these books from the library.)
First I read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I was already pre-disposed to like Ms. Stead’s novel because Madeleine L’Engle is one of my very favorite authors. And I had already read a lot buzz about When You Reach Me, and one of things I’d read was that the girl protagonist in the book is a great fan of A Wrinkle in Time. Any friend of Madeleine L’Engle is a friend of mine.
However, as I began reading the book, I began to think that maybe my expectations were too high. I stayed confused about three-fourths of the way through the book, but I was willing to hang on because of Madeleine and and because it looked as if there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. I could sort of, kind of, see where the book was going, but on the other hand, it was really confusing. Of course, as you might have guessed, there’s time travel involved. And where there is time travel there is bound to be mind-bending confusion. What you need to know going into When You Reach Me is that:
a) it’s not as good as A Wrinkle in Time, but it’s pretty good. Definitely worth your time.
b) you need to keep reading even if you don’t understand what’s going or exactly when you are. All will become clear.
Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder is also about magical time travel, and it’s also fan fiction of the very best kind. Only this time it’s Edward Eager, author of Knight’s Castle and Half Magic and other wonderful, magical books, that is the focus of the the author’s tribute. In Any Which Wall, Eager’s books are barely mentioned, but the flavor of his writing and of his joy in magic, is right there. Four children find a magic wall that can take them anywhere, anytime. And there’s a bit of an allusion to the Problem of Susan in the Narnia books: there’s a Susan here who has been too eager to grow up in all the wrong ways and who learns a lesson about what it really means, and doesn’t, to become mature.
As the author says in her “Brief Note on the Existence and True Nature of Magic”: “There are many kinds of magic in the world, and not all of it starts with a sound track of thunderous music to alert unsuspecting explorers to fabulous adventures ahead.” So, just in case you’re not alerted yet, I’m telling you very plainly that When You Reach Me and Any Which Wall are a couple of magical books.
I liked When You Reach Me, and I loved Any Which Wall. Anyone who enjoyed L’Engle and Eager and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia when he was a child (and who hasn’t lost his ability to experience magic in the world) should check out both of these new fantasy/scifi titles. And any child who loves magic books and has already read all of the above should also try these.
Other bloggers on When You Reach Me:
Welcome to My Tweendom: “Refreshingly different and filled with insight, Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is part mystery, part slice-of-life, and part science fiction. It has the feel of the kind of book that is going to stand the test of time.”
The Book Muncher: “When You Reach Me is a truly delightful and remarkably unique story that incorporates themes as simple as friendship and love to concepts as complex as the scientific possibility of time travel. Readers will be drawn into Miranda’s story from the first page with the exciting air of mystery Stead creates.”
The Reading Zone: “In 6th grade I have a lot students who enjoy the tv show LOST (as do I). I would call When You Reach Me LOST for the middle school set. The strands of the story all start weaving themselves together, leaving you breathless at the end, much as I imagine I will be at the end of the final season of LOST.”
Other book bloggers on Any Which Wall:
Charlotte’s Library: “a splendiferously fun journey through time and space in the best Edward Eager tradition of great characterization, brisk writing, and snappy dialogue among the children.”
Never Jam Today: “Strangers to Edward Eager will still love Any Which Wall, and will hopefully be led back to the master of us all. But devotees will have even more fun. They’ll spot brilliant strokes, like Henry and Emma playing Parcheesi … a game played by the children in Eager’s novels.”
Jen Robinson: “Any Which Wall is about remaining childlike. It’s about keeping your eyes open to glimpse potential moments of magic. it’s about paying attention to how other people feel, doing the right thing, and displaying initiative and bravery. It is a return to Eager’s golden age of children’s literature.”