Wanda’s 11th birthday begins with a bluebird flying smack into her bedroom window, and then it gets worse.
Wanda always tries to be kind and helpful. Still, her parents chastise her and praise Zane, her horrible beast of a younger brother, no matter what happens, even when he spits peas at her across the dinner table. Every birthday she wishes to suddenly become an orphan. It turns out that the bluebird, named Voltaire, has a secret message to deliver, but he cannot remember it. On a journey to learn what it is, the two go into the Scary Wood among all sorts of creatures who wish her ill (and frequently almost succeed in doing it). Amid many magical mishaps, transfigurative perils, and a smooch-obsessed frog, Wanda hopes to discover her “true” family. The text is well constructed, containing odd scraps sewn together into an imaginative story quilt. There’s a supernatural cast chock-full of familiar types in fiendishly new forms, such as the Groods, chimerically composed of various flora and fauna. Wanda is by turns charmingly flabbergasted and persistently practical but ever well meaning; readers are sure to root for her along the journey. Textual descriptions combine with Harney’s cartoon illustrations to establish a largely white cast; in a welcome twist for a genre that too often racializes evil, the dreadful witch has “creamy” skin.
This inventive, modern fairy-tale adventure is sprinkled with wry humor. (Fantasy. 8-12)