4 out of 5 Stars
I am pretty late to the party in regards to The Land of Stories book series but have had my eye on it for a while. On a recent trip to my local bookshop I was chatting with one of the sales people and this series came up. She mentioned it had been really popular so I decided to pick up the first book – The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer. So far there are 6 books total in the series.
The story starts off in the “Land of Stories” with Snow White going to the dungeon to visit her wicked stepmother, who as you might remember tried to kill her on multiple occasions. Snow White wants answers and her step-mother finally decides to open up to her. We later learn that the evil queen has escape her jail and is on the run.
We then switch worlds where we are introduced to two kids called Alex and Connor Bailey. They are 11 year old twins and in school their teacher is starting a lesson on fairy tales. She is discussing why Disney may have ruined the moral lessons that the stories used to teach by completely changing the endings. The twins have grown up with a grandmother and father who loved to tell stories, especially fairy tales, and the twins know everything about them. Alex is a complete bookworm and in my mind resembles Hermione Granger from “Harry Potter” in the way she goes about school – she does very well, always wants to impress her teachers, first to have answers every time. Her brother is her opposite and is not as focused in school, tends to fall asleep and is generally more relaxed about the whole situation. We learn they are still grieving the death of their father and are not really looking forward to their upcoming birthday. When they get home from school their grandmother is there to help celebrate and while their mom thinks she has the night off from the hospital is called back in at the last minute. The twins are given a special book by their grandmother – one that she always read to them when they were younger.
A few days go by and Alex starts noticing the book is doing strange things. She finally tells Connor about what the book is doing when pressed and he gets the impression that she is going to try to go inside the book. One day she locks herself in her room and when he barges in he stumbles and they both fall through the book into the Land of Stories and have no idea how they are going to get back to their world. They come across a frog man who they decide to trust and he tells them about the Wishing Spell and gives them a journal he was given years before. The twins set out from there, collecting the various items for the spell, getting into plenty of trouble, meeting many of their favorite characters in real life and meeting plenty of villains.
The overall story takes the fairy tales we grew up with and turns them on their heads. These are stories that take place after the ladies have met their princes, have become queens and are now rulers of their kingdoms. Goldilocks is a wanted fugitive, Red Riding Hood is the only elected Queen (still trying to work that one out) and the trolls and wolves are running amok. I really enjoyed all of that.
Reminding myself that this book was written for children and the vocabulary and writing isn’t to the level I expect of the adult books I read, I felt like it was really good fun. I have a feeling it will be similar to the Harry Potter series where the first book doesn’t feel as well written as the subsequent books in the series and the characters are going to mature becoming more beloved and they will be making better choices allowing us to like them more. The usually level-headed person in this book loses her head often and both kids call a frog man “Froggy” rather than actually asking his name. That was a little tough for me and I feel like these are generally things more mature people don’t do.
I can see why this series has been so popular and I have picked up the second book to start reading. Kids (and adults) who love fairy tales and princesses are going to love love this story, but there is enough adventure that I think the kids who appreciate that will find it exciting too. There are some twists and turns that take place as well, making it a solid story line and that story line offers something for everyone.
It is a longer book at 438 pages, but the font is on the larger side helping reluctant readers feel like they are cruising quickly through the book. There are some lovely illustrations sprinkled throughout the book as well.
Recommended age is 8+ and I think that is about right. 7-8 year olds will probably see this as a really big book (some might be fine tackling it) and I imagine if my son were in this age range we would be reading this together. At 9-10 he will read this quickly on his own with no issue (we need to get him through a couple of other books first….Minecraft books have his attention right now).
We highly recommend this book and I will be reviewing the second book, “The Enchantress Returns”, as soon as I finish it!