Sunday, March 2, 2008

An eventful walk through the forest

Jennifer is a very nice but slightly plain young princess whose father rules a tiny, unassuming kingdom. One day when she's relaxing on a sun-warmed rock by the river (after helping the servants do the laundry), an incredibly handsome prince walks by on his equally lovely steed. He introduces himself, with a breathtakingly brilliant smile, as Prince Alexander, "the king's son." From there on out he never refers to his father without adding, "the king" as a descriptor. Alexander's horse has lost a shoe, and he is looking for the closest blacksmith

Jennifer is smitten, of course, and although Alexander is clearly disappointed when he learns that he must stay in Jennifer's drafty old castle until the blacksmith returns from his fishing trip, Jennifer is secretly delighted. Jennifer's father is less enchanted with Prince Alexander, and in order to get away from "my father the king this" and "my father the king that," which is just about all Prince Alexander talks about, Jennifer's father suggests they take a walk in the gardens.

In the gardens there is a gate that leads into the forest. When Jennifer tells Alexander the forest is enchanted, and the gate is there to keep out all the bad things lurking there, Alexander insists on opening the gate (which, strangely, is unlocked) and going through. Once in the forest, it quickly becomes apparent that the path has a mind of its own, and soon they are lost - but of course Alexander won't admit any responsibility for their plight - he blames Jennifer! Eventually his thoughtless behavior lands him the victim of an immobilizing spell. Jennifer, determined to rescue him (not that he deserves it), ventures through the haunted forest, braving witches, dragons, wizards, giants and dragons - and learns a few lessons about appearances along the way.

I have enjoyed many books by Vivian Vande Velde, but I'd never read this one before. I picked it up at a used bookstore a few years ago (which makes this my third Molly's Personal Challenge book), and when it recently resurfaced I decided to read it to my kids (7 and 9 years old). It made for an excellent read-aloud because of its episodic nature, action and adventure, and brief chapters, and we also enjoyed the lovely full-page black-and-white illustrations. The dialog brought the story to life, and the characters, although at first glance stock fairytale characters, inevitably put an interesting, amusing spin on their expected stereotypical natures. We will be choosing another Vande Velde as a read-aloud soon. This one was definitely a hit!

A Hidden Magic by Vivian Vande Velde; illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (Magic Carpet Books, 1985)

Other blog review:
The Cozy Apartment


  1. This sounds like a lovely book and I love the cover illustration.

  2. I've made a note of this one, partly because I love the sound of it but also I have a 7 year old grand-daughter who loves to read and who I read with and it sounds like we might both have fun with this. It's an author I don't know at all though so I must go and look her up. Thanks for a great review!

  3. Oh I like it already just from the cover like very old Grimms fairy tale type of illustration. The story itself seems up my alley but I have a feeling Jennifer would get on my nerves even if we share the same name lol.

  4. A glance at the cover of this one was enough to conquer me. It evokes the enchanted forest feel so perfectly. And then your review sealed the deal. One more for the wishlist.

  5. Rhinoa - each chapter has its own illustration, too, by the same artist, and the girls loved that there was a sentence from the story as a caption to each picture, so they could see the exact moment that was being depicted.

    Cath - oh, I hope your granddaughter enjoys it!

    Ladytink - oh, Jennifer is pretty savvy, actually - she recognizes Alexander is a self-absorbed fool fairly quickly, but she feels she just can't leave him there (although I'd have been tempted to), and it's really her own sense of personal decency that spurs her on her quest. If you can last through the first chapter, you'll be okay!

    Nymeth - I'll be looking forward to hearing what you think of it when you read it!

  6. This sounds like a delightful take on fairy tales. I'm tempted to pick it up for a read for myself. :)

  7. Heather - I hope you do! It's not terribly complex, but it's sweet and fun!

  8. Just popped by to tell you that my copy of the book arrived today. :-D It looks perfect for what I have in mind which is to read it with my grandaughter. Thanks for the rec!

  9. Oh, I hope you two enjoy it! I can't wait to hear how it goes. :-)


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