It is a rare book that makes me want to read it aloud (I hate to); it is an even rarer book that makes me cry during the introduction. This did both. Maybe it just hit me at a good time, but Snyder's Any Which Wall was the sort of book I would have loved as a child. Part Edward Eager (who is quoted), part Elizabeth Enright (The Saturdays), this book made me sigh with happiness when I turned the last page.
Siblings Henry and Emma have free reign of their Iowa town during the summer, and they spend most of their time with friends Roy and Susan, riding their bikes around town, stopping by the local diner, and going to the library. One appallingly hot day, they ride out to a corn field where they find a wall and a key which feel overwhelmingly as if they must be magic. They debate the existence of magic, contemplate the rules, and end up being whisked away to the local diner. After this success, and some more pondering, they end up visiting Merlin at his castle, the house of the worst pirate ever, their own town years back, and New York city.
Snyder asks us from the start to suspend belief. "Have you ever stumbled onto magic? Maybe while you were trudging to school one drizzly day, or in the middle of a furious game of freeze tag? Has anything odd ever happened to you? If you're shaking your head right now, if you think that nothing out of the ordinary ever happens, you might be mistaken. Because it's possible that you stumbled onto magic and missed it-- that you were teetering on the edge of a strange and wonderful adventure but then turned the other way." (Page 1)
Don't we all want to believe that this is the case?
This book gets extra bonus points for Lily, the "chirky" (cheerful and perky) librarian, who helps the children and is a fun but realistic character.
The LeUyen Pham illustrations are very evocative of Joe and Beth Krush ones (The Borrowers, Fifteen, and according to Collecting Children's Books, Elizabeth Enright!). This was an inspired paring of author and illustrator.
There have been some attempts in recent years in books that feel like classics, but this is the most successful one I have seen.