Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Land of Stories - The Wishing Spell: Chris Colfer

I had heard about The Land of Stories series from a local librarian.  Her daughter loves the books, and since I love books that have magical things in them, I thought they sounded cool.  So, I checked out The Wishing Spell and started reading it.  I was only 100 pages in when I realized that the book is not all it's cracked up to be.

These books are written by Chris Colfer, the kid who played Kurt on Glee.  Now, I think Colfer is a good singer, and a decent actor, but I don't think he has the skills to write good stories.

Let me give a little background about the book.  The two main characters are Alex and Conner Bailey, twin 11 year old kids who are about to celebrate their 12th birthday.  About a year before the novel starts, their dad died in a car accident, leaving Conner, Alex and their mom behind.  Their father's mom travels a lot for in her retirement (supposedly to help people) and so they only see her a few times a year.  She surprises them the day before their twelfth birthday by showing up at their house with tons of food, and a bunch of birthday presents.

One of the birthday presents that grandma gives to Alex is a book of fairy tales called The Land of Stories.  The book contains stories from a "make-believe" land.  The fairy tales are about people like Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and other popular fairy tale characters.  In a twist, the book comes "alive," humming and glowing at various times throughout the days after Alex receives it.  One day in class, the book starts humming.  Alex freaks out and asks to be excused to the bathroom, bringing her backpack with her.  She sets the book on the sink, looking at it.  Conner barges in on her, and later that evening at home, they get sucked into the book.

Throughout their time in the book, they meet many different fairy tale characters, who all live in a land separated into different kingdoms.  Alex and Conner discover that in order to get home, they must solve something called the wishing spell.  In order to complete the spell, they need items from several different places throughout the Land of Stories.  I won't give away everything that happens - so without further ado, let's talk about what I thought about the book.

I found the writing in the novel to be clunky and awkward.  There were many times throughout the book where I almost felt like I was just stumbling over the sentences and paragraphs.  The book was also not nearly as descriptive as it should have been, especially for a kids book.

A few examples of some of the clunky writing and poor descriptions are:

Pg. 1: The dungeon was a miserable place.  Light was scarce and flickered from the torches bolted to the stone walls.  Foul smelling water dripped inside from the moat circling the palace above.

Pg. 3: She journeyed through a longer, darker hallway where a series of bars and barriers were raised and then lowered after she walked past them.

Pg. 29: It was a lovely home, painted blue with white trim, and had several windows.  The front yard was landscaped to perfection; it had just the right amount of grass, patches of colorful flowers, and a large oak tree ideal for climbing.  (There has got to be a better way to describe what their old house and yard looked like.  How much is the right amount of grass?  What types of flowers are in the yard?)

Pg. 35: The Bailey's house was cozy but cluttered.  They had more furniture than they had room for, and none of it matched the house because it was never intended to.  Even though they had lived here more than half a year, unpacked boxes were still lined up against the walls.

Pg. 222: "What's the game plan for tonight?" Conner said.  "It'll be the first time we'll ever be breaking and entering anywhere, so I'm extra anxious."  (Really, Conner?  Are you extra anxious?  Perhaps this should be SHOWN to the reader instead of told.)

Pg. 412: They were so exhausted that they slept until mid-afternoon the next day.  It was strange for them to sleep apart from each other.  Alex and Conner both woke up ever hour or so, each looking for the other, and had to remind themselves where they were and that they were finally safe.  (Okay, so are they so tired that they sleep well, or are they so anxious that they keep waking up?!)

This book was also littered with examples of writing that should not be included in a book written for 10 to 12 year olds.  Some examples:

Pg. 13: "The only exposure to the tales some children acquire are versions bastardized by film companies."

Pg. 300: "Wooo!  It's so cold, I think we might be twin sisters now," he said through rattling teeth.

These are just some of the things that make the book hard to read and more appropriate for older readers.  (Of course, that's my opinion.  Parents should decide for themselves if they think this book is okay for their kids to read.)  I think that the occasional swear word in a book written for teens 15 and older is alright.  In a book for 10 to 12 year olds, there shouldn't be any adult language.  Also, there should be more description in the book, because it really helps the story come alive and can make it easier to imagine what the Land of Stories looks like.

Colfer needed a better editor for the novel as well.  It could have helped him get the book cleaned up so that it was better written.  I know everyone thinks that Colfer is golden because he can sing, and is an alright actor, but that doesn't mean he's a good writer as well.

If I were to give this book a letter grade, it would get a D.  I don't know if I'll make it through the rest of the series.

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