Saturday, August 8, 2009

Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder - Book Review

"It was breathtaking, mesmerizing, and as the fireflies began to blink in unison, the kids stopped to stare. All around them, the greenish light from the bugs pulsed like a dream. Was this really happening? Was every night like this -- this magical? Why did anyone ever go to bed?" - Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder

School may have started already for some children, but in our area summertime continues for another month. Lucky kids! There's still time to play outside and time for imaginations to run wild. June, July and August were always my favorite months as a child and remain my favorites. All the freedom. All the vibrant, green fields and forests full of life and abundance. The corn rows, straight and orderly, provide an interesting contrast to the other vegetation. Wandering through the rows of a huge, tall cornfield is a disorientating but fun experience, though avoiding the sharp leaves requires careful maneuvering. The many corn fields near us recently finished tasseling, several sweet corn festivals will take place in the next few weeks and the corn mazes will open next month. August for me has always included corn (and plenty of it considering my father worked, for my entire childhood, at a pea and corn canning factory.)

Author Laurel Snyder has witnessed her share of corn fields. For a time she lived in Iowa, surrounded by plenty of corn. After all, Iowa does produce the largest corn crop every year. In her middle grade book, Any Which Wall, four curious, school-aged children from fictional Quiet Falls, Iowa, pedal their bikes to nowhere in particular and end up exploring a cornfield. In the middle of the cornfield they discover a large, "precarious" stone wall. Soon they realize that the wall isn't ordinary; in fact, the wall is magical. It has the power to take the kids most anywhere they wish - any time, any place. They visit interesting and dangerous places, like a pirate's home, a pioneer settlement and Camelot, where they meet the wizard Merlin. Along the way, the children (two sets of siblings: Emma and Henry & Roy and Susan) find that magic exists even in the commonest of places. They also learn that growing up does not mean having to let go of your imagination.

Any Which Wall is a creative, imaginative summertime children's book. Because of the setting, I'd especially recommend it to children living in the Midwest, though children living anywhere will appreciate the adventure. Snyder wrote Any Which Wall as kind of a tribute to Edward Eager. To be honest, I've never read Eager. [GASP!] I'll blame that little oversight on not meeting a Lily the librarian as a child. Lily is the exotic and slightly peculiar orange clog, fork-in-her-hair wearing librarian that the children befriend in Any Which Wall.

Readers do not need to be familiar with Eager's works to enjoy Any Which Wall. Anyone with an interest in magical fantasies (Harry Potter and the like), unicorns and time travel will find something to love about Snyder's book. She lures readers into the story with a short note on common magic, the kind of magic that takes place every day, the kind you'd miss if you weren't looking for it. She convinces readers that extraordinary things can happen to an ordinary person. (Yes, watching fireflies blink in unison is magical.) For those concerned about such matters, the beginning of the book does depict the children performing a "fun" sacrificial ceremony to the spirits of the field. It plays such a minor part in the mostly innocent book, a book that mentions creating music using a blade of grass and includes several light-hearted messages including "you have to be careful of strangers and of cake, even the kind that comes from nice librarians." The black and white illustrations drawn by LeUyen Pham show some of the unusual situations the children encounter. As a bonus, Snyder has included a secret message somewhere in the book for curious children to find. Someday I will let my children read the book, so long as they promise to never, ever use my toothbrush to clean filthy objects.
Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Random House Books for Young Readers (May 2009); 256 pages; ISBN 9780375855603; Ages 9-12 (tween)
Book Source: Review copy provided by for free by Random House Children's Books (with thanks to author Laurel Snyder)

Related Links:
Laurel Snyder - Author Website
Any Which Wall Excerpt
LeUyen Pham - Illustrator Website
Interview with Laurel Snyder on Shaken & Stirred: she discusses Any Which Wall


Shooting Stars Mag said...

Fireflies are magical. I love watching them all. Thanks for the great review. I've seen it around but didn't know much about it. It sounds like a really fun book.


Cascia Talbert said...

That sounds like a great book. Although, I don't have any kids at that reading level right now.

I used to love getting fresh sweet corn in the summer time as a kid. Sweet corn festivals are also a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

I've heard about the book at least the name, but didn't really know what it was about. Now that I've read your review I'll have to try and find a copy. Thanks