Waiting for the Magic
By Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Amy June Bates
Published 2011 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
When William's father leaves one night and doesn't come back, he's not sure how he feels. When his mother takes him and his sister to the shelter and ends up adopting four dogs and a cat, he's even more confused. And when his sister insists that the animals are speaking to her, well, William is pretty sure the whole world's gone crazy.
I picked this one up as a quick read over the summer as I was trying to set a good example and finish my summer reading log (we hung staff summer reading logs next to our desk this year so kids could see what we were reading). That's not the only reason I grabbed this one, though; it's also a current Bluebonnet book (the state book award here in Texas). Plus, I don't think I've read a Patricia MacLachlan book since Sarah, Plain and Tall and that felt frankly criminal.
This is really quite an extraordinary book. Surface level and writing-wise, it's a very simple book, something that could easily be read and enjoyed by kids just venturing into chapter books (and, indeed, that seems to be where the majority of MacLachlan's books fall). Younger kids will be excited and enthralled by the simple magic that MacLachlan has imbued her story with - what young child doesn't wish they could talk to animals?
This is a book with a deeper emotional level, however; William and Elinor (and their mother) are dealing with his father's leaving and it gives them all a muddle of emotions to sort through. This is a book dealing with a tough subject in a clear and concise way, speaking to kids on a level they can easily understand. While this, like many books on tough subjects for younger readers, ends on a happy note, it's lovely to see more and more books for kids that address the particular difficulties they may be facing in a realistic and honest way (although the magic in here makes this a little beyond the realm of realistic). The characters shine and I enjoyed the simple illustrations as well.
I definitely recommend this to readers looking for a quietly magical story and I'll be revisiting MacLachlan's work as soon as possible.