I admit it: I’m a sucker for animal stories. I love the fairy-world bits of miniaturism you can add to their stories. (Tiny hats from acorns! Petite homes in tree trunks! I’m all there for it.) I enjoy the fact that animals are automatically diverse, and that I can see myself in, say, a hedgehog, whereas I might feel so different from an English queen or space-age teenage boy that it’s hard to identify–and that an English queen or teenage boy might be able to find themselves in the hedgehog just as well.
I also really love the wild weirdness of The Wizard of Oz. And Cory Leonardo won my devotion in her sweet and funny first book, The Simple Art of Flying. So you know I jumped on the chance to read her newest release, The Hedgehog of Oz, when it was offered on Netgalley.
The story follows a hedgehog named Marcel who lives in an old, beautiful movie theater. He dines on spilled popcorn and fruit gems (strawberry ones are his favorite) and enjoys the camaraderie of two chickens, “Uncle” Henrietta and “Aunty” Hen, that wandered into the theater as well. He lives in hope that one day his human girl Dorothy will come into the theater for a Saturday viewing of their favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz, so he can right the wrong he committed and they can be reunited.
But soon Marcel is thrown into an Oz-worthy adventure of his own, complete with yellow roads, flying beasts, and companions who know a thing or two about brains, heart, and courage. Of course, he must learn–just like Dorothy in the book and film–how to use his own brain, heart, and boldness to make his way back home where he belongs.
As in The Simple Art of Flying, Cory Leonardo proves here that she is a master of character development–especially the type of quirky and lovable characters that I seem to love the best in books for young readers. Marcel is a delightful little hedgehog, but he may be eclipsed in delightfulness by his companions, a scarecrow of a mouse named Scamp, an old squirrel named Ingot, and a baby raccoon called Tuffy. Scamp the mouse, in particular, was a superb character who joins the ranks of Reepicheep of Narnia and Matthias of Redwall as Mice to Remember.
If you don’t love The Wizard of Oz, you may find the overt and frequent references to that book/movie a little much. I did pause a few times during the first half of the book to consider whether even I found them overdone–but I will honestly say that by the second half of the book, Marcel’s story became so compelling on its own that I couldn’t be bothered to consider any longer. I just wanted to see what happened–even if I was pretty sure he was going to end up facing a witch, meeting a good fairy, and ending up with “no place like home.” (He did, and it was perfect.)
I already hand-sold this title to an eight-year-old reader (and her mom) who I happened to see glancing at it at our local bookstore, and I will heartily recommend it here to readers of the 7-10 range most especially, particularly if they like animal stories or Oz! Parents of young but gifted readers will be grateful for a story that is gentle enough for a seven-year-old, yet compelling enough to maintain their interest.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Greg’s blog, Always in the Middle!