Atwood lets four letters of the alphabet assume starring roles in these three alliterative stories—R and W each in its own, with B and D sharing the limelight in another.
In each short, scintillating serving of silliness, a child prevails against dire circumstances of his or her situation through luck and perseverance. Rude Ramsay seeks refuge from his rowdy family and finds a real friend, Rillah, in a romantic rectory. Bob, a boy raised by a boxer, a beagle, and a borzoi, is taught to speak by Dorinda, a girl neglected by distant relatives. Wenda and her companion woodchuck work with three waifs—Wilkinson, Wu, and Wanapitai—to escape a wicked wizard who has held them all captive. Ramping up the humor and a tall-tale exuberance are: missing parents; disasters; villainous relatives and just plain bad adults; friendly rats and wolves and those resourceful dogs; plus icky food combinations (“wormy whitefish, withered whortleberries”). All are nicely matched by Petricic’s lively, cartoony, black-and-white illustrations. Rillah, Bob, and Wenda are depicted in the illustrations with pale skin, while Ramsay has slightly darker skin and Dorinda could have one black parent, and in an illustration of Wilkinson, Wu, and Wanapitai, one waif has Asian features and another has dark hair. The exaggerated humor and outlandish situations call to mind Roald Dahl, but the hilarity in this alliterative tour de force is all its own.
Fine exercise for stretching linguistic muscles; great fun for reading aloud. (Fiction. 7-10)