Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder, illustrations by LeUyen Pham
When you recruit a team of siblings whose job it will be to solve your mystery, survive the adventure you send them on, or adjust to the magic that you are willy-nilly injecting into their ordinary everyday lives, you have three choices.
- You can establish verisimilitude by making them sniping, squabbling siblings who insult each other and barely endure each other's company, like the Grace family in Tony DiTerlizzi's Spiderwick stories or the Willoughbys at the beginning of The Willoughbys
- You can make them react believably to danger and uncertainty by banding tightly together, viz the Baudelaire siblings, who are as supportive and encouraging of each other as the events surrounding them are... unfortunate.
- Or you can take the middle path. Think the Aldens. Or the Casson kids. Heck, think of the March girls or the Pevenseys. They don't always agree, and sometimes a fit is pitched, but as far as I'm concerned, there's your verisimilitude. No hair-pulling required.
What I'm saying is: brave, considerate, honest and smart does not equal BORING. Laurel Snyder's Any Which Wall is a Penderwick-y book, a Nesbitty book, an avowedly Eager-y book, featuring four children who discover a wall that works magic, and who must figure out how to use it and what it can do. Once they've got that sorted, the next step for each kid is to decide - what to wish for. What's YOUR heart's desire? Hard to say? Try making that decision when you're six.
But while each child makes this decision based on his or her own interests (Henry wants pirates, Roy chooses American history, little Emma wants a castle, while big girl Susan just wants to see her best friend again), their adventures give each kid the opportunity to exercise underused muscles: independence, honesty, logic, compassion. I've often heard it said that kids practice known skills at home, but they learn new things on vacation. Well, my husband implies that he read this somewhere, every time he tries to justify taking a few days off and blowing town together.
The writing is clear and pleasant - Laurel Snyder has a particular gift for describing place (when the kids visit New York City, and the subway emerges from the tunnel to cross the East River, her description of the graffiti-ed buildings seen from above made me nostalgic for a daily commute I haven't taken for almost ten years), and her dialogue is natural and unaffected.
LeUyen Pham I have to guess was just a shiny shiny gift from Laurel's editor. Nobody draws regular kids, with their quirks of gesture and occasional annoyed expression, like Ms. Pham. Between the two of them, they've created four children as real as the kids playing LEGO in the dining room at this very minute.