Monday, June 24, 2013

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell

In my quest to find new fairy tale versions I discovered The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell a new series, which I didn't realize until I started researching a sequel is written by a Glee star.

The book starts as many time travel or alternate adventure stories for children do, you must take characters from one place and take them to another. In this version those characters are fraternal twins Alex and Connor Bailey. Both children are recovering from the loss of their father and the emotional and financial upheavals that loss has created.

Alex is the stereotypical smart girl with her hand always in the air waiting for the teacher to call on her. Connor struggles more with school and misses the father who helped him make sense of his life with stories and lots of patience. Early in the story, we realize the twins are struggling not only with the loss of their father, but in many ways with the loss of their mother who now works constantly to support them.

The children's teacher at school is doing a unit on traditional fairy tales. I was curious about the teacher and thought she might have a larger role in the story. While many schools do teach units on traditional tales at this age, this teacher seemed to be very focused on having the Bailey children understand the meaning behind the stories. After reading the book, I'm left wondering if this was a false lead or if this will come up later.

As with many of these travel books, the mode of travel always seems awkward to me. This one is a common tool used in fantasy travel. However, I am not sure there is a believable way to travel to another dimension. Therefore, I think the awkwardness is rather expected.

For an audience exposed to the TV show Once Upon a Time this provides some interesting alternate back stories and alternate answers to the questions about the fairy tale realm. What happens after happily ever after? Who are the princes in the stories? What happened to Snow Whites stepmother to make her so mean?

There are some interesting political and romantic issues to resolve, too. In this land, the Happy Ever After Assembly is created from of stories Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Red Riding Hood is also a member as the only elected Queen. There are other areas not ruled by fairy tale Queens, the Dwarf Forest, The Elf Empire, and The Troll and Goblin Territory. However, even here readers will discover familiar names. We discover that Goldilocks has been set up and her boyfriend is a hero from another fairy tale. Her betrayer is not the typical evil suspect you might expect. As their teacher was trying to explain, fairy tales teach a great deal about the human condition.

The children discover there is a magic spell that will grant any wish. It can only be used twice and it has already been used once. A good portion of the story revolves around the journey they take to find the items they need to cast the spell, allowing them to interact with a variety of fairy tale characters and story lines. The children have a journal from the first person to follow the quest and it was this that led me to guess the outcome of the story.

The end of the quest was a bit different than I expected. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the children do find a way home, but there is a twist. I rather expected this answer when the children started reading the journal.

This was a good start to the series. I heard that the next one will be out in August. If the second one is as good, the books will be headed off to a couple of Christmas trees this year.

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