By Colin Meloy; illustrated by Carson Ellis
Reading level: Ages 9 and up
Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray; First Edition first Printing edition (August 30, 2011)
What to expect: Fantasy
At first glance, Wildwood Chronicles may seem too massive a tome to read to your children. Although daunting, I’m glad that we undertook the challenge. For the more faint-hearted, you may want to invest in the audiobook narrated by Amanda Plummer (whom you may remember as Honey Bunny from Pulp Fiction and the axe-murder in So I Married an Axe Murderer). I’m told she employs a remarkable number of voices for this large cast of characters. The one character she cannot give voice yet seems to pulse with life throughout this book is the forest itself, the various flora and fauna that inhabit this Northwestern clime, and the ivy that lurks just below its surface waiting to engulf its very heart.
The soul of the book for me is the uncommonly bold heroine Prue who risks life and limb for her brother Mac and even puts her own parents to shame with her fearlessness. The story begins, much like Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, when baby Mac is snatched from his radio flyer wagon in the park and whisked into the sky by a murder of crows. Shocked yet undaunted, Prue returns to her house for supplies and leaves to rescue her brother early the following morning. Unbeknownst to her, she is followed by her curious friend Curtis who only wants to help her. Once past the Impassable Wilderness, they encounter an army of coyotes and lead separate adventures for most of the book until they are reunited in a battle to save Wildwood and Mac.
The inventive ragtag cast of characters befriends and tricks Prue and Curtis as they search for Mac and whom to trust along their way. They both encounter beasts and humans trying to survive in a world that has changed since the reign of Alexandra the mad Queen who was banished to the Wastelands. Her devoted legion of various birds and coyotes prove formidable foes for Prue, Curtis, the Mystics, Bandits, and the Irregulars as they mount a campaign to defeat Alexandra and her minions and take back Wildwood. Throughout the novel, Carson Ellis’s delicate illustrations provide a fantastic backdrop for her husband’s imagination. The husband and wife live just across from the Impassable Wilderness and it would seem the perfect inspiration for them to conjure Wildwood into life. I must confess, though enchanting, Meloy’s long descriptions of fern and bracken often proved too taxing for my seven-year-old. I admire the breadth and depth of his imagination and his sheer ability to bring a story to Portland that will leave a mark on this fair city for some time to come. Much like Eloise in New York or Paddington Bear in London, Prue and Curtis will live on in the hearts and minds of the citizens of Portland. I salute the pair for a masterfully good read and look forward to reading their next installment.
Add this book to your collection: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book 1
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Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies,What I Would Tell Her: 28 Devoted Dads on Bringing Up, Holding On To, and Letting Go of Their Daughters; Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond; Crush: 26 Real-Life Tales of First Love; and The May Queen: Women on Life, Work, and Pulling it all Together in your Thirties. Her anthologies have been excerpted and praised in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, Redbook, Parenting, Cosmopolitan, Bust, Salon, Daily Candy, and Babble.