Book Review by Debbie Winkler
Author: Frances O’Roark Dowell
Publisher: Atheneum (March 2010)
ISBN: 141695032X, EAN: 9781416950325
Page Count: 256 pages
Target Age Group: children 9 – 12 years old
My Rating: 4/5 stars
*provided for free for review purposes
Isabelle Bean never quite fit in at school or at home or anywhere really. So she is not a bit surprised to find another world on the other side of the nurse’s closet door at school and she eagerly steps in. The children Isabelle meets in the other world presume that she is a witch and want nothing to do with her. After convincing the children that red, pointy boots do not a witch make, Isabelle is instructed to retreat to the children’s camp in the woods so that the witch won’t find her and eat her. But Isabelle doesn’t always do what is sensible or even what she is safest. She decides that it would be much more interesting to meet a witch in this new world and promptly heads off in that direction. Along the way, she befriends Hen, a clever young girl about her own age, and Grete, a wise, old herb woman who is both more and less than she seems…
This is a charming little book intended for readers ages 8 – 12. I think that it is a good, gentle introduction to fantasy books if your child is interested in reading that genre. The story is fairly simple and easy to follow, but while the “mystery” is really no surprise for older readers, younger readers will delight in trying to figure out who Isabelle really is and if Grete is really a witch. The type is fairly large and the pages a bit smaller than usual so young readers will make rapid progress and should finish the book pretty quickly.
The writing style was my favorite part of the book. It is written in a confidential, story-telling mode that experienced actors and performers use to engage their audience. However, I will say that one of the things I both enjoyed and did not like about the writing style were the random asides inserted by the author. You will be reading along the story and then all of a sudden be jolted out for an explanation of what a changeling is or to discuss the holes in modern education. These little interruptions are entertaining and may even be useful for those less familiar with fantasy books, but I did not think that they were placed very well sometimes as I thought they disrupted the pace of the story. The characterization and descriptions were really well done, however. I liked Isabelle right away and thought it was wonderful that this book is based around a quirky, offbeat young girl who knows that she is different, but is okay with it. Her thoughts and rationales for doing things are really hilarious! Hen and Grete are also interesting to get to know and help you realize that not everyone is who or what they seem and that sometimes stories have a way of taking on a life of their own.
I recommend this book for young readers, but I especially recommend it to those parents or teachers who are looking for a fun book to read out loud. There is a lot of personality in this book and many opportunities to unleash your inner performer as you relay these words to your audience. I would love to hear this in audiobook format or to have the chance to read it to some young children as I think that the book is written in a style that is like an old-fashioned bard performing a story. This is a fun, cute read that young girls will particularly enjoy, but young boys should find entertaining as well.
This book contains a story about a child who are beaten, a child who is accidentally killed and a country of children who are scared of a woman they believe is a witch. There is a tiny bit of action including tying up a captive, imprisonment, accidental poisoning and other dramatic sequences. Everything is pretty tame and described in language appropriate for children. Recommended for ages 8 and up.