I admit it: I picked up this one entirely because of the cover. Look at it! Who could resist that? I think it may have been a mistake to get the audio version; in the reviews listed below there were many comments about the lovely interior illustrations, so I may have to find the book so I can take a look at them. I love Nicoletta Ceccoli's art, and since I discovered her, my children and I have read every one of her picture books we've been able to get our greedy little hands on. I think my favorite one is The Girl in the Castle inside the Museum.
I did enjoy Jessica Almasy's narration of the book, however - she has a nice clear voice and gave the characters lots of expression when they spoke. The protagonist is twelve-year-old Claire, a girl who loves the outdoors and all its creatures, from frogs to lizards to turtles. Her cousin Duke is a thoroughly disagreeable boy who bullies anyone younger or smaller or weaker than he is, including Claire. In the opening scene he is dangling her over the side of a bridge, but instead of plummeting into the river when he lets go, Claire floats gently down into a nearby rowboat, whose only other passenger is a little old woman who seems to know much more than she's letting on. Duke's nose suddenly sprouts a horn like a rhinoceros, and the old woman tells Claire that the only way he can get rid of it is by performing a genuine act of kindness.
The sudden appearance of Duke's horn might seem a bit odd, but Claire (and everyone in town) knows that there's something truly odd about the river, and Claire's grandfather regales her with tales from bygone years of other boys who had horns just like Duke's. But Claire has no idea how bizarre an adventure she's in for, when Duke hooks up with some river trolls and suddenly her relatives have been turned to stone. Claire is determined to change them back, and she accompanies Duke and his troll companions on what appears to be an impossible quest.
This was an enjoyable adventure story, but somehow I never felt that intense need to get back to it to see what was going to happen. The characters were a bit lacking in depth for me - and Duke was so disagreeable I could never care one way or another what happened to him (and I couldn't help but wonder why on earth Claire did). His parents' about-face at the end of the book regarding their son was patently unbelievable, too. What I did like was the sense of magical things happening along a certain section of the Mississippi river, a special sort of homegrown, tall-tale-spawning magic that just might exist out in the reader's own backyard.
Horns and Wrinkles by Joseph Helgerson; narrated by Jessica Almasy (Recorded Books, 2007)
Also reviewed at:
Bookshelves of Doom
Here, There, and Everywhere
Let the Wild Rumpus Start!
Maw Books Blog
Nothing of Importance