In the first of four "Misadventures of Benjamin Bartholomew Piff," we meet young Ben, who lives at Pinch's Home for Wayward Boys, where he turns Oliver Twist's crime (asking for more gruel) upside-down and gets in trouble for refusing to eat the slop served to him. As punishment, he must scrub the foul cauldrons in the kitchen, even on his birthday, when a cake dropped off by his case worker hunkers uneaten in the fridge. At last Ben risks further punishment and steals a slice of his own cake, sticks a candle in it, lights it, closes his eyes, blows out the candle, and makes a wish without saying it aloud.
This wish—a wish for unlimited wishes—shakes the Wishworks, the magical factory that fulfills all valid, by-the-book wishes of children like Ben and so maintains a bit of hope and happiness in the world. Each additional wish that Ben makes means another child will not get his or her wish. The longer this goes on, the more the enemy—the Curseworks—will be strengthened in its preparations for war. After trying to trick Ben into giving up his wish, the newly-elected Wishworks President recruits the lad to help him fight against the powers of cursing and the unhappiness it brings. It's a desperate move, but the times are desperate too, now that a traitor has stolen Ben's powerful wish and plugged it into a Curseworks super-weapon.
And so Ben becomes part of a whimsical world of magic, befriended by fairies, leprechauns, and djinn. He learns the art of battle with a weapon like a super-charged boomerang. He struggles against his fear of flying (his parents died in a plane crash, you know). He finally leads an assault on the Curseworks, borne by a winged armchair, where he must face an evil mastermind who would like to see Ben change sides. After the hard life he has had, will Ben succumb to the allure of curses?
This is a fun little story, charmingly illustrated by its author, with an attractive hero and a cast of characters with silly names and even sillier propensities. My only complaint was that there was so little of it; it seemed as though the ending came too soon. But with three more adventures to look forward to, I suppose that's a very little problem. The sequels are titled Wishful Thinking, Wishing Well, and Wish You Were Here. Other books by Jason Lethcoe include the "Mysterious Mr. Spines" trilogy, featuring a winged boy who guides souls to the afterlife; two "Zoom's Academy" books; a short story collection called The Clockwork Storyteller; and a new series, starting with No Place Like Holmes, featuring a boy who lives upstairs from a certain celebrated sleuth. After feeling the winning light touch of this book, my interest in these other titles has grown.
Saint Louis USA
Recommended Age: 10+
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November 1, 2007 - The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a book of five fairytales including one within Deathly Hallows, is revealed by Jo on her official website. Jo says six handwritten copies will go to those who helped her most with Potter and one will be auctioned for chari