A masterfully weird adventure, likely to leave fantasy lovers in awe.


A teen unlocks the secrets of a mysterious wooden head in this whimsical YA fantasy.

At Boyle Middle School, seventh-grader Alec Mulroon lives to annoy his classmates and teachers. Hurling insults and fake vomit, he acts out for the attention he doesn’t get at home. His father is deceased, and his mother travels the world, concerned mainly with her tan. She does mail Alec presents, like bicycles and baseball mitts, that his caretakers, Wallace and Miranda Bairton, would have loved as children. Still, Alec resents his mother’s attempts to buy his affection. Then, incredibly, in the mail he receives a carved wooden head, which soon begins talking to Alec in private, calling itself Sansablatt and telling him fanciful bedtime tales about a place called Quelle. There, wizards known as Skylls fly through the air and summon anything they wish through Calling Doors; there are also Swarthy Giants and a feisty General in Chief named Eugenia McPherson McNutt. After hearing several tales about the magical realm—and one startling secret about Sansablatt’s origin—Alec is sure he’s destined to visit Quelle. But what awaits the teen if the fabulous stories actually come from his own restless mind? Author Spilman’s playful story will have readers racing for the answer. And even before the magic begins, fiendishly animated prose casts a spell: “Beneath the [head’s] glare he detected a gleam, beneath the gleam, a twinkle, and finally, finally, beneath that, what could only be described as a wink.” When Spilman fully unleashes her imagination, the result is often splendid chaos: The “belch, released from his stomach where it had been rolling and boiling all morning, now took on a life of its own.” But perhaps this novel’s most miraculous feat is the way it finds tenderness amid the cacophonies of silliness: “Alec already knew that Sansablatt was quarrelsome, impatient, and demanding. He also knew that he couldn’t live without him.” As the world within a world builds in complexity, readers will wonder if any canvas is large enough for Spilman’s imagination.

A masterfully weird adventure, likely to leave fantasy lovers in awe.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1482668957

Page Count: 312

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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A gripping, atmospheric tale of sorcery, secrets, and sisterhood, infused with the titular pinch of magic.


From the Pinch of Magic series , Vol. 1

When an ancient curse threatens her life and the lives of her sisters, Betty Widdershins seeks a way to break it.

Adventurous, 13-year-old Betty and her two sisters—Fliss, elder, and Charlie, younger—all live on the island of Crowstone in a decrepit village inn operated by their grandmother Bunny, who has always been strangely reluctant to let her granddaughters go anywhere. After Betty’s abortive attempt to surreptitiously leave Crowstone, Bunny reveals the family secret: All Widdershins girls have been under a curse for over 150 years. If one ever leaves Crowstone, she will die by the next sunset. Bunny gives Fliss a mirror, Betty nesting dolls, and Charlie a traveling bag, each containing a different magical power, to use if they need to hide or escape quickly. Intent on altering their fate, the sisters accidentally trigger the curse by leaving Crowstone while helping a young stranger escape from prison. For heroine Betty, who has “spent her life wishing for bigger things,” the imminent threat of losing her sisters proves life-changing. Facing death by the end of the day, Betty must rely on the magical objects, her sisters, and clever thinking to uncover the origins of the Widdershins curse while simultaneously confronting a rapid-fire series of perilous plot twists, betrayals, and shocking revelations in an effort to remake her family history. Betty and her family appear to be white.

A gripping, atmospheric tale of sorcery, secrets, and sisterhood, infused with the titular pinch of magic. (map) (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-19331-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the...


At a time when death has become an acceptable, even voguish subject in children's fiction, Natalie Babbitt comes through with a stylistic gem about living forever. 

Protected Winnie, the ten-year-old heroine, is not immortal, but when she comes upon young Jesse Tuck drinking from a secret spring in her parents' woods, she finds herself involved with a family who, having innocently drunk the same water some 87 years earlier, haven't aged a moment since. Though the mood is delicate, there is no lack of action, with the Tucks (previously suspected of witchcraft) now pursued for kidnapping Winnie; Mae Tuck, the middle aged mother, striking and killing a stranger who is onto their secret and would sell the water; and Winnie taking Mae's place in prison so that the Tucks can get away before she is hanged from the neck until....? Though Babbitt makes the family a sad one, most of their reasons for discontent are circumstantial and there isn't a great deal of wisdom to be gleaned from their fate or Winnie's decision not to share it. 

However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the first week in August when this takes place to "the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning") help to justify the extravagant early assertion that had the secret about to be revealed been known at the time of the action, the very earth "would have trembled on its axis like a beetle on a pin." (Fantasy. 9-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1975

ISBN: 0312369816

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1975

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