Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Review of Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage by Kaye Umanskya

Umansky, Kaye. Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage. Roaring Brook Press, 2009.

Some heroines are bold and fearless, some are sweet and good - and some, like Clover Twig, simply like to keep things clean and orderly. Ten-year-old Clover's superb cleaning and organizational skills get her a well-paying housekeeping job with Mrs. Eckles, the gruffly kind but breathtakingly messy village witch. A perquisite of the job is her own little bedroom in the cottage's loft, a fine change of pace from Clover's slightly squalid and very overcrowded home, but a drawback is Mrs. Eckles' nasty witch sister Mesmeranza, who manages to steal the cottage and all its contents, including Clover, young Wilf the delivery boy, and Mrs. Eckles' huge and mangy cat Neville.

Clover doesn't wrest back the cottage or vanquish Mesmeranza (those feats belong to Neville and Mrs. Eckles' grandmother, respectively), but her common sense, love of order, and a dose of stubbornness do serve to counter the goofiness, ineptness, irrationality, and messiness of all the other characters - demonstrating that those fine qualities possessed in abundance by (for instance) many librarians can save the day.

This is a charming story that takes fairy tale staples like the plucky peasant girl and the witch's cottage in the woods and uses a whimsical and slightly dry humor to create a fresh and entertaining fantasy. Mrs. Eckles' love and admiration for Neville (who exudes both an appalling stench and a huge personality), Mesmeranza's fascination with footwear, her prison guard's doomed love for her allergic cat-obsessed secretary, Wilf's clumsiness, and Clover's mania for tidiness are all entertaining. At one point, Mrs. Eckles suggests that Clover, to pass the time, should take a potion that causes her to go berserk and make a huge mess. "The effects only lasts an hour. Then you goes back to normal and cleans up. You'd enjoy that part," she adds drily.

Recommended as a light and diverting fantasy for grades 3 - 5.

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