At the beginning of Any Which Wall, Laurel Snyder’s second middle-grade novel, four bored children while away the summer, wistful for the kind of magic that only happens in books. They’ve been reading Edward Eager, author of the 1954 uber-classic Half Magic, which also begins with bored children yearning for something, anything exciting to happen.
And those children—the kids in Half Magic—have been reading E. Nesbit, the mother of all adventure writers (The Railway Children, Five Children and It, etc.) and the model for Eager himself. Any Which Wall then, is the second degree of separation from Nesbit to Eager to Snyder, and the new book holds up well in such august company.
Magic is actually quite common, as we are told by the chatty, no-nonsense narrator who has not forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. “Common magic” is what can happen to characters lucky enough to be bored, be together, have excellent taste in literature and have parents too busy to interfere. Such as Emma, six years old; her brother Henry, a rising fifth grader; Henry’s best friend Roy; and Roy’s older sister Susan. Susan is charged with looking after the younger ones, but does not do a great job keeping anyone out of trouble. The trouble starts at the end of a path through an Iowa cornfield, where a bizarre, gigantic stone wall launches adventures accidental and on purpose. As in Half Magic, each kid gets a turn, and each kid discovers the power of words. “Be careful what you wish for” has never been such an apt caution: wordplay and syntactical imprecision make for unexpected (and funny) plot twists. Also look for the funky, retro-feel illustrations by LeUyen Phem: magical in their own right.
Perfectly timed for a summer release, Any Which Wall should handily alleviate boredom for young readers, and keep us all wishing for a sequel. Of course, the ultimate accolade would be a book written by someone in the next generation of children’s authors, and which begins with bored characters wistful for the kind of magic in Any Which Wall.
Joanna Brichetto still owns the copy of Half Magic she first read 34 years ago (price: 75 cents).