Waiting for the Magic

Book Reviews

BCCB:
MacLachlan, Patricia Waiting for the Magic; illus. by Amy June Bates. Atheneum, 2011 146p
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4169-2745-7 $15.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4424-3125-6 $9.99 R Gr. 3-5

William can scarcely believe how his mother reacts when Papa walks out on them; she loads William and his four-year-old sister Elinor into the car and heads to the animal shelter for the pet his father would never allow, and they leave with not one but five animals (“Four dogs and a cat named Lula replaced my father”). Miraculously, Elinor can hear the animals talking, and soon William can converse with the pets, too. Meanwhile, in the human realm, their mother discovers she’s pregnant and their father returns, and it’s a difficult adjustment on all sides. This thoughtful tale is aptly titled; the story is not about acts of magic or seeking out magic but, rather, quietly waiting for and observing magic in the world. The talking animals are presented as an everyday occurrence, and the true magic of the story is the way the family recovers and moves forward from their separation. There is great appeal in stories of mundane magic, and the combination of a fanciful plot and likable, honest, straightforward characters makes this a solid cross-genre work with lots of appeal. The animal voices add further interest, as the pets observe the emotions of the humans around them, particularly William, before the people are even aware of their own feelings. While this will obviously draw in fans of animal tales, it will also attract fans of realism willing to stretch. Final illustrations not seen.  HM

Booklist:
Waiting for the Magic.
MacLachlan, Patricia (author).  Illustrated by Amy June Bates.
Sept. 2011. 160p. Atheneum, hardcover, $15.99 (9781416927457). Grades 3-5.

REVIEW.  First published July, 2011 (Booklist).

Shortly after William and Elinor’s father walks out on the family, their mother takes them to an animal shelter, where they adopt four dogs and a cat. Early on, four-year-old Elinor can understand what the animals are saying, and after a while, Max (a fifth-grader) can, too. When their father hears that a baby is on the way, he rejoins the family and begins to heal emotionally. Suddenly, the magic of understanding animal speech extends to him and, in the end, to his wife. MacLachlan writes with simplicity and limpid clarity, acknowledging strong emotions evoked by the father’s departure and depicting the events that follow with sensitivity and bits of humor. With large type, well-spaced lines, and many appealing charcoal-pencil drawings, the story is fully accessible to young chapter-book readers. The magic of understanding animal speech seems minor compared with the magical idea that adding four dogs, a cat, and a baby will bring an absent father home and heal a broken family, but it’s a fantasy that will appeal to many children. — Carolyn Phelan

Horn Book Guide:
MacLachlan, Patricia Waiting for the Magic
   143 pp. Atheneum (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing) 2011. ISBN 978-1-4169-2745-7
(3) 4-6 Illustrated by Amy June Bates.

William’s father leaves; his mother is about to have a baby; and his little sister Elinor is talking with the family’s new pets–four dogs and a cat. Soon William starts hearing the animals, too, and when his father returns, the pets help keep the family together. Emotions ring true in this poignant story about family dynamics.

Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine [or Guide, as applicable] by permission of The Horn Book, Inc., www.hbook.com

School Library Journal:
MACLACHLAN, Patricia. Waiting for the Magic. illus. by Amy June Bates. 144p. CIP. S & S/Atheneum. 2011. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-2745-7; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-3125-6. LC 2010019668.

Gr 3-5–Realism blends seamlessly with fantasy as a boy struggles to trust that his fractured family can become whole once more. When Papa walks out yet again, Mama decides they need a dog and takes fifth-grader William and his four-year-old sister, Elinor, to the animal shelter where they choose not one but four dogs: Bryn, Bitty, Neo, and Grace, and one cat, Lula. The animals fill some of the empty space left by Papa’s absence, and first Elinor and then William realize they can hear the dogs talking to one another. But when Mama announces she’s pregnant, Papa returns and tries to fit into the new dynamics of the household, taking over the cooking to hilarious effect and setting up a studio in the attic in hopes of overcoming his writer’s block. Two loving grandparents, an eccentric friend, and four wise and devoted dogs that can now be heard by Papa, and then by Mama, too, help a now-solid family welcome baby Nicholas–and a new dog–at story’s end. The spare prose, in William’s authentic voice, conveys pathos and humor; the boy’s cautious observations and Papa’s earnest explanations are offset by Elinor’s droll one-liners and the dogs’ succinct comments. Deft characterization adds richness and depth to a deceptively simple narrative, and appealing charcoal pencil illustrations throughout reflect the action. The book’s title suggests the wonder of canine speech and becomes the title of the story Papa eventually begins to write. Fans of Joy Cowley’s Chicken Feathers (Philomel, 2008) will love this gem.–Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

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