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About the Author

Gregory Maguire is the author of the incredibly popular books in the Wicked Years series, including Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which inspired the musical. He is also the author of several books for children, including What-the-Dickens, a New York Times bestseller. Gregory Maguire lives outside Boston.


Gr 4-6-In Gregory Maguire's fantasy (Candlewick, 2007), siblings Zeke, Dinah, and Rebecca Ruth are stranded in their home during a cataclysmic storm along with their cousin/babysitter Gage. To pass time and distract the children, Gage tells them a story of What-the-Dickens, a tooth fairy, and his search for identity and belonging. Although hatched alone in an old tuna can, What-the-Dickens discovers that he is one of the skibbereen who normally live in large groups. He meets Pepper, a probationary "agent of change," who introduces him to her colony of skibbereen. He learns about their history, hierarchy, and function but ultimately decides not to join them, so he and Pepper set out on their own. As the story and night progress, the family's dynamics play out as the children scrounge food, plan to celebrate Rebecca Ruth's second birthday, and elude the attempt of the emergency services to evacuate them to a shelter. Listeners are left with no more certainty about their future than that of What-the-Dickens and Pepper, although there is the sense that both the fairy and human characters will be fine. The author encourages listeners to explore the interplay between story and reality as well as the causative power of stories. Jason Culp's understated narration gives subtle and appropriate voices to the characters. In the review copy, there was an editing glitch on disc 4 in which text was repeated. A good choice for young fantasy lovers.-Louise L. Sherman, formerly Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, NJ Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

More ambitious than many of Maguire's (Leaping Beauty; Wicked) previous works, this novel combines the author's taste for the fairytale backstory with explorations of the values of storytelling. A contemporary narrative frame opens the book with a setting inspired by Hurricane Katrina: after a terrible storm brutalizes the region, the parents in a strict fundamentalist family have wagered outside, leaving their three children with rapidly diminishing supplies in the care of their 21-year-old English-teacher cousin, Gage. To divert them from their hunger and their anxiety, Gage spends an entire night telling them about a "skibberee" (tooth fairy) who grows up on its own and only by chance discovers that the presence of other skibbereen. Dense with allusion, metaphor and pun, Maguire's prose shines, compensating literary-minded readers for the slow start of the skibberee story. By the time the urgency of the skibberee story matches that of the framing tale, however, Maguire's agenda emerges in its complexity. Each of the characters takes a different approach to Gage's story: Dinah, the 10-year-old, needs the magic that Gage's tale delivers; her older brother claims to need to eschew its fancy, in favor of his parents' teachings about faith and reason; Gage needs story to exist; and the youngest, who celebrates her second birthday, needs the wish the story promises. Comic scenes, elaborate tableaux and suspenseful sequences will entertain readers who prefer more straightforward fiction, but those readers may be frustrated by the unresolved ending. Ages 10-13. (Oct.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.


BY EVENING, WHEN THE WINDS ROSE yet again, the power began to stutter at half-strength, and the sirens to fail. From those streetlights whose bulbs hadn't been stoned, a tea-colored dusk settled in uncertain tides. It fell on the dirty militias of pack dogs, all bullying and foaming against one another, and on the palm fronds twitching in the storm gutter, and on the abandoned cars, and everything -- everything -- was flattened, equalized in the gloom of half-light. Like the subjects in a browning photograph in some antique photo album, only these times weren't antique. They
were now. The air seemed both oily and dry. If you rubbed your fingers together, a miser imagining a coin, your fingers stuck slightly. A fug of smoke lay on the slopes above the deserted freeway. It might have reminded neighbors of campfire hours, but there were few neighbors around to notice. Most of them had gotten out while they still could. Dinah could feel that everything was different, without knowing how or why. She wasn't old enough to add up this column of facts:
- power cuts
- the smell of wet earth: mudslide surgically opening the hills
- winds like Joshua's army battering the walls of Jericho
- massed clouds with poisonous yellow edges
- the evacuation of the downslope neighbors, and the silence
and come up with a grown-up summary, like one or more of the following:
- the collapse of local government and services
- the collapse of public confidence, too
- state of emergency
- end of the world
- business as usual, just a variety of usual not usually seen.
After all, Dinah was only ten. Ten, and in some ways, a youngish ten, because her family
lived remotely. For one thing, they kept themselves apart -- literally. The Ormsbys sequestered themselves in a scrappy bungalow perched at the uphill end of the canyon, where the unpaved county road petered out into ridge rubble and scrub pine. The Ormsbys weren't rural castaways nor survivalists -- nothing like that. They were trying the experiment of living by gospel standards, and they hoped to be surer of their faith tomorrow than they'd been yesterday. A decent task and, around here, a lonely one. The Ormsby family made its home a citadel against the alluring nearby world of the Internet, the malls, the cable networks, and other such temptations. The Ormsby parents called these attractions slick. They sighed and worried: dangerous. They feared cunning snares and delusions. Dinah Ormsby wished she could study such matters close-up and decide for herself. Dinah and her big brother, Zeke, were homeschooled. This, they were frequently reminded, kept them safe, made them strong, and preserved their goodness. Since most of the time they felt safe, strong, and good, they assumed the strategy was working. But all kids possess a nervy ability to dismay their parents, and the kids of the Ormsby family were no exception. Dinah saw life as a series of miracles with a fervor that even her devout parents considered unseemly. "No, Santa Claus has no website staffed by underground Nordic trolls. No, there is no flight school for the training of apprentice reindeer. No to Santa Claus, period," her mother always said. "Dinah, honey, don't let your imagination run away with you." Exasperatedly: "Govern yourself!" "Think things through," said her dad, ever the peacemaker. "Big heart, big faith: great. But make sure you have a big mind, too. Use the brain God gave you." Dinah took no offense, and she did try to think things through. From the Ormsby's bunker, high above the threat of contamination by modern life, she could still love the world. In a hundred ways, a new way every day. Even a crisis could prove thrilling as it unfolded:
- Where, for instance, had her secret downslope friends gone? Just imagining their adventures on the road -- with their normal, middle-class
families -- made Dinah happy. Or curious, anyway.
- For another instance: Just now, around the corner of the house, here comes the newcomer, Gage. A distant cousin of Dinah's mom. A few
days ago he had arrived on the bus for a rare visit and, presto. When the problems began to multiply and the result was a disaster, Gage had
been right there, ready to help out as an emergency babysitter. Talk about timely -- it was downright providential. How could you deny it? Therefore, Dinah concluded,
- A storm is as good a setting for a miracle as any. Of course, it would have been a little more miraculous if Gage had proven to be handy in a disaster, but Dinah wasn't inclined to second-guess the hand of God. She would take any blessing that came along. Even if decent cousin Gage was a bit -- she tried to face it, to use her good mind with honesty -- ineffectual. Hopeless at fixing anything. Clumsy with a screwdriver. Skittish with a used diaper. ("As a weather forecaster," Zeke mumbled to Dinah, "Gage is all wet: where is the clear sky, the sunlight he's been promising?") Yes, Gage Tavenner was a tangle of recklessly minor talents. Who needed a mandolin player when the electric power wouldn't come on anymore? But he was all they had, now. An adequate miracle so far. "Zeke," Gage called, "get down from that shed roof ! Are you insane? We want another medical crisis?" "I was trying to see where the power line was down. . . ." "And fry yourself in the process? Power is out all over the county. Up there, if the winds get much stronger, you'll be flown to your next destination without the benefit of an airplane. Down. Now. . . . " ***************
WHAT-THE-DICKENS by Gregory Maguire. Copyright (c) 2007 by Gregory Maguire. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

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