What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire

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What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: Witty yet profound examination of the role of the tooth fairy - and its history - in the modern world!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: December 2008
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 978-1406316018

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I enjoyed this very much. Having read a few of Maguire's adult fictions, I suspected that I would have a treat in store, but this in fact, although classed as 'children's fiction', far surpassed some of his adult fiction. It wasn't just in the quality of the writing, but also in the character development, and plot - quite simply, a great little book which would appeal to adult and child alike - particularly those adults who enjoy somewhat quirky fiction. I feel this novel would also lend itself exceptionally well to being read aloud as a bedtime story. The novel simply has a huge potential - read aloud to a child, say as young as 6 (who could derive much pleasure from the excitement and humour), whilst the adult could have great fun experimenting with the characters during the reading. Note to self… try and borrow a young child at bedtime for this purpose. But, enough frivolity: let's turn to the book…

A storm is raging, leaving several children and teenagers cut off from the rest of the city, which is in the process of being evacuated. The children are determined to stay put in the family home, whilst awaiting and hoping for the return of their parents, stranded by the storm somewhere outwith. Gage, an elder cousin, is also with them, nominally in charge, and to distract the little ones from the horror of their situation, recounts to them the tale of the the tooth fairies, known as skibereen.

'What-the-Dickens' is the name of the eponymous hero, the orphaned skibereen, who longs to find his family! Briefly adopted by a bird, WtD becomes entranced by a cat, whom he decides would surely love to have him for a pet - so begins WtD's quest for acceptance. Chance and fate leads him to stumble across one of his kind (Pepper), and the interplay between these two characters is simply superb. Poor WtD knows nothing whosoever about anything, which gives Maguire the very opening needed to explain to the reader in detail the history and customs of the skibereen colony.

This ongoing history is enchanting, and Maguire delineates a great little community peopled by odd and eccentric characters, amost human in some respects. Rigid and hierarchical, the colony is far from ideal, and gives the child reader a gentle introduction perhaps to life in a totalitarian state, so there are some meaty slants contained in the novel. Children would be delighted at the silliness and buffoonery of some of the skibereen, and at the same time, love the delicacy and tenderness with which Maguire brings these sweet little creatures alive. Juxtaposed to the dictatorship, we also find individual loyalties and friendships which will move adult and child alike, so once again, a good balance between light and dark elements.

Running parallel, we also follow the story of the family stranded by the storm, and this too is page turning. Will their parents return, will they survive unscathed? So, interspersed in the fairy tale, we have an exciting-and at times slightly frightening tale of human catastrophe. However, this is effectively secondary to the tale of the skibereen, and in part, I felt myself feeling that it was superfluous: the fairy tale would have worked equally well or even better as a stand alone tale.

Both human and skibereen tales are left open ended, although in the case of the former we are lead to believe that all will be well. In the latter case-perhaps my only criticism of the book, is that we are literally left at the point of climax, and don't learn the fate of either Pepper or WtD. From and adults' stance, no bad thing, but from a child's perspective, it could prove disappointing, and 'unfinished'.

Overall though, I simply loved this book. Maguire is a very gifted author, who really can weave a magical tale-and this adult at least, will be looking very carefully at tree stumps from now on!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For further reading we can recommend Frankenstein's Cat by Curtis Jobling, Give Peas a Chance by Morris Gleitzman and One Beastly Beast by Garth Nix.

Buy What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire at Amazon.com.


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