"A girl who begins her life on a doorstep, without a note or clue of any kind, has a choice. She can believe that she was abandoned because no one wanted her, and she can feel like the most unimportant person in the world. Or she can believe, as Isabelle did, that because her origins were shrouded in mystery, that she must be an extra important person. A special person. A person like no other person. For a secret birth is like a secret errand -- sure to yield something interesting." - Fortune's Magic Farm by Suzanne Selfors
What I wouldn't give for a green thumb! Or at least a green pinkie. In the book Fortune's Magic Farm, ten-year-old Isabelle possesses a knack for growing things. She grows lichen in her hair and has mushrooms growing between her toes. Unfortunately, this odd little orphan girl happens to live in a very strange town -- a gloomy, dreary town named Runny Cove where the rain never ceases and the sun never shines. The place perfect for slugs but not for people. All the inhabitants of Runny Cove stay perpetually sick, have translucent skin and grow gray hair, "the color of sadness."
Just like all the other inhabitants of Runny Cove, Isabelle works tirelessly at the evil Mr. Supreme's umbrella factory. She lives in a battered boardinghouse with her beloved but sickly Grandma Maxine who found her as a baby abandoned on the doorstep. Without many options, Isabelle goes about her daily work complaining very little and doing her best to eek out a meager living. Then, one special day, out of nowhere a huge sea creature appears, sneezes and shoots a slime-covered apple out of its nose onto Isabelle's lap. Everything changes and she sets off on an adventure with a boy named Sage to find the "nowhere" she came from, a beautiful and magical place called Fortune's Farm. Feeling the sun for the first time and delighting in her newly green hair, she yearns to help her friends back at Runny Cove and turn the dismal place back into the Sunny Cove it once was.
Writing with humor and a large dose of creativity, Suzanne Selfors combines all the popular children's book components (an orphan in an unfortunate situation, magic, animals, adventure) and weaves them into a compelling, quirky fantasy. After reading the book you'll never look at a rainy day without thinking of Runny Cove or gaze at a garden without wondering where the Curative Cherry tree is located. Never was there a more likeable character than Isabelle. Her tendency to make up silly little songs and use them as a coping mechanism to deal with difficult situations amuses the heart. On her journey of self-discovery, she demonstrates that she is trustworthy and responsible and, in her own whimsical way, serves as a fun role model for all children. So enjoyable was the book that I'll go out on a limb and say adults (think Allen's Garden Spells combined with Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) will enjoy the leisurely read nearly as much as the 8-12 age group the book is geared toward. Catia Chien's organic illustrations full of dense garden growth, appear at the beginning of each chapter. Like other reviewers, I wish the cover art looked less girlish and more adequately presented the book as appropriate for both girls and boys. Another thing I'd like to add - this marvelous garden read is the perfect happy green fictional escape with Earth Day approaching. Makes you want to get out and tend your own garden.
Just a curious question - why do authors always write of powerful apples? Garden of Eden influences? Maybe try a pumpkin...hmm, wait, that's taken. A peach? Whoops, also taken. What fruit would you use?
Fortune's Magic Farm by Suzanne Selfors, illustrated by Catia Chien. Little, Brown Young Readers (March 2009); 272 pages; ISBN 9780316018180Related links:
Suzanne Selfors - Author Website
Catia Chien - Illustrator Website