I was wary about reading Any Which Wall, Laurel Snyder, (2009, 242 pages) since I knew she had written it in part as a tribute to Edward Eager. I’m not a fan of Eager’s writing as noted last week here in my review of The Time Garden. But, I need not have worried. Whereas I judged Time Garden to be old-fashioned and stuffy, Any Which Wall was a breath of fresh air.
In this story, four kids who are next-door-neighbors are beginning an ordinary slow-paced summer in Iowa. In my town, it seems most kids are shuttled to and from swim team practice,or Lego and pottery camps in the summer. But I like to believe there remain places such as small-town Iowa where kids are left alone to find their own adventures all summer. Deep in a cornfield,these four discover a wall that doesn’t seem to be connected to a building or have any use they can figure out. It is a magic wishing wall. They figure out they can be instantly transported to any wall in the world, in any place and time, merely by wishing it to be so. There are some hilarious surprises when they meet a pirate, a queen, a wizard and others.
I found the history of how Ms. Snyder came to write this book interesting. You can read about it in this interview on Gwenda Bond’s blog here . This youtube video of Ms. Snyder answering questions from children about Any Which Wall is also a lot of fun. I learned that her personality was like the character of Susan, and the other three characters were based on her real-life siblings.
The story is similar to Eager’s Time Garden in several ways. Both involve four children who stumble upon “ordinary magic”, that is, magic that has certain rules and restrictions, at the beginning of an otherwise quiet summer. The oldest child in both books is struggling some with becoming a teenager and deciding if he/she is too old for magic. Also the voice of the wise narrator was similar. Compare these two passages, the first from The Time Garden:
July was lengthening into August, and that time had come that you all know only too well, when everything stops growing, and the leaves hang heavy, and no birds sing, and even the most ideal vacation takes on a certain sameness. And the thought of summer ending and school beginning again would be almost welcome, if it weren’t so utterably unthinkable and horrible.
Now from Any Which Wall:
The next day was an iffy kind of day: warm but not too hot, gray, and slightly overcast. It was the kind of weather that makes your mom or dad suggest a raincoat, but then you just end up all hot and sweaty inside it or you leave it behind someplace.
After reading so many middle grade time travel books this year, I loved how the characters were questioning the magic they were experiencing and comparing it to magic they’d read about in books, as in this exchange between Susan and Merlin:
“Merlin,” she said, “we came because I have a question. Can I ask you my question?” “You just did,” said Merlin.”Uh, no. I mean another one,” said Susan. “About the magic… I was just wondering why things aren’t wrapping up for us.”"Wrapping up?” asked Merlin.”Yes. In books, the magic wraps itself up, fixes things, especially for kids.”"Ah, I see what you’re driving at.” The wizard smiled.
This book held my interest despite the fact that, as in The Time Garden, the time travel trips are disconnected and essentially random with no powerful overriding plot tension. The character development was great. The author made the youngest main character, Emma, seem adorable without being annoying, no easy feat. There are some black and white drawings which add interest to the book. Overall, it’s a charming story. It was a pleasure to curl up with this book in the waning days of this summer.