Saturday, April 05, 2014

Ruth Chew Reissues!

15981695Chew, Ruth. The Trouble With Magic
January 28th 2014 by Random House BFYR
 (first published 1976)
Copy from Young Adults Book Central and reviewed there. 

Barbara and Rick's parents are away, so they are being watched by a nice older lady, Mrs. Cunningham,  who is fond of cooking cabbage. The two can't stand the smell, so they buy a dusty air freshener for a quarter at the corner store. When they open it, out pops a wizard named Harrison Peabody. He makes Barbara's room smell like roses-- by having roses grow all over it. Rick's room smells like pine, and you can guess why! But Harrison's magic doesn't always work, so they children let him stay in the attic as long as Mrs. Cunningham doesn't know that he is there. The three go on a number of adventures, including riding on a sea serpent in the local lake, whom they must rescue when he is captured by the zoo. Soon, however, the parents are expected back, so Harrison must leave.

hardcover-trouble-front - smStrengths: I've always been a huge fan of Chew's work, so the very best part of this for me was the inclusion of the original cover under the dust jacket. For a long time, I had just about all of these delightful magic tales in very fragile paperbacks, but I gave them to another Chew fan a while back. I'm going to buy these for my school library, because they are great for reluctant readers who like magical realism. Simple and fun, they make it seem like magic is just around the corner, if we only know where to look.
Weaknesses: Like the republished The Little Leftover Witch, this has a very retro feel. Who is this Mrs. Cunningham, and why doesn't she watch the children more closely instead of watching movies on television? Why do the children feel it's appropriate to let a vaguely skeevy old guy live in their attic, magic or not? Reading things from my youth always makes me realize how very much the world has changed in the last 40 years!

15981692Chew, Ruth. Magic in the Park.
January 28th 2014 by Random House BFYR
(first published 1972) 
Copy from Young Adults Book Central and reviewed there.

Jennifer wishes her family hadn't moved from Carbondale to Brooklyn, because she misses her friends and being able to play outside. When she ventures forth from her apartment on Ocean Parkway to Prospect Park, she sees a man feeding a lot of birds and an unusual tree. When she goes back, she doesn't see the tree, but she meets Mike, who manages to fall into a nearby pond. She helps him, and the two become friends. Mike has also noticed that the tree never seems to be in the same place two days in a row, and also feels that the man feeding the birds is unusual. When the two cross the pond to find the tree one day, they find that it holds bigger secrets than they could ever imagine-- they get stuck underground, and eventually, turn into birds! While this is exciting, they also know that it is dangerous, and try to figure out how and why this occurs, and what part the old man has in this.
Strengths: There are many reasons that I loved these books as a child, and why children today might find them even more enthralling than I did. Jennifer and Mike are allowed to run all over Brooklyn by themselves, even though Mike has shown that he is apt to fall into the pond that has broken bottles and tin cans at the bottom! There's always a tasty snack (usually warm cookies!) waiting at home whenever they manage to roll in, and they manage to get to experience magic without the adults (with the exception of an especially understanding grandmother) being any the wiser. These easy to read books are great for strong first grade readers, but also amusing to struggling middle school readers.
Weaknesses: Again, these seem a little dated. Today, I'm sure that the grandmother (the mother would be at work) would insist that she accompany the children, would insist that Mike have a tetanus booster after his dunk in the pond, and would probably report the bird man to the police. There might also be a "clean up the pond" initiative. Still, I'm glad to be able to share these with my students.


  1. Anonymous7:04 PM EDT

    These sound great! I'm asking my youth librarian to buy them in hopes that they'll appeal to my nine-year-old dyslexic fantasy lover.

  2. Oh, Ruth Chew! One of my fave authors when I was a kid. I read loads of her books and even wrote her a fan letter. She not only answered me personally, but added a quick sketch of a witch to the note. These are such fun, fast, easy reads. I'm so glad they're being reissued!