- ISBN-13: 9780763629618
- ISBN-10: 0763629618
- Publisher: Candlewick Press (MA)
- Publish Date: September 2007
- Page Count: 295
- Reading Level: Ages 9-12
- Dimensions: 8.07 x 6.57 x 1.17 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.21 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 64.
- Review Date: 2007-11-05
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)
Maguire sinks his teeth into new tale
Call them tooth fairies, call them skibbereen. Whatever you call them, be prepared to realize they are realor are they? That conundrum is at the heart of this cleverly constructed story-within-a-story by Gregory Maguire, whose novels Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister have lured adults back into fairy-tale worlds. What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy, both the book and the charming eponymous character, will do the same for middle-grade readers, even reluctant ones.
The frame story opens on a tempest-tossed night with the three Ormsby childrenDinah, big brother Zeke and baby Rebecca Ruthhuddling in a scrappy bungalow, supervised by older cousin Gage. With the trio in dire need of distraction, Gage spins a mesmerizing tale of What-the-Dickens, a tooth fairy hatched at twilight in a tin can.
It's hard to resist Gage's tale of What-the-Dickens, a filmy winged orphan who knows not what, or who, he is. He soon meets an array of curious creaturesfrom a cacophonous rust-throated grisset to McCavity, a cat who prompts What-the-Dickens to explore the world beyond his tuna can.
And what a world it is! Each ensuing adventureincluding the breathtaking extraction of a tiger toothsets What-the-Dickens on the path of learning about the secret lives of skibbereen. But it isn't until he happens upon Pepper, a pert girl skibberee, that he discovers more about their often dangerous tooth-gathering missions.
As Gage's charges fall in and out of sleep, his fantastic tale continues. Later, Gage injects himself as a character in the tooth fairy saga, prompting Dinah to wonder if the whole story is fact or stormy night fiction.
Maguire, a wordsmith extraordinaire, does a seamless job of interconnecting both stories. Vibrant descriptions of everything from storms to birthday candles are inextricably woven into the fabric of the book, creating an almost palpable atmosphere. This playful tale is an ideal read-aloud bedtime story. Just remember to tuck a tooth under the pillowyou never know who might be visiting.
Sharon Verbeten is a former children's librarian and writer from De Pere, Wisconsin.