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Dream-shifter synopsis When 12-year-old Gwendolyn dreams, she becomes the animals she dreams about. A fire alarm awakens her when she is an elk. She has no idea how to become human again. But she has plans, and elk or human, she’s going to fulfill them. She wants to go to Journalism Summer Camp. For her application paper, she interviews a crabby funeral director, who gives her a great interview because she loves petting animals. At first Gwendolyn doesn’t want to be petted, but then she figures the director is giving her what she wants, so she should do the same. Fair is Fair. Her interview wins. But the camp won’t let her attend because it is for humans only. She goes to a Magician. His magic doesn’t work. Her house has burned down. It’s elk-hunting season. She needs a place to stay. The Magician tells her that from his reading she has to change back to human within three months, or she’ll be stuck as an elk for the rest of her life. Three months is Thanksgiving day. The Magician will let her stay at his home and read his library of magic books if she’ll put on a Talking Elk show. The Magician has diaries of another dream-shifter, but there’s a spell on them. She can’t get near the books. The Magician calls a television reporter to interview The Talking Elk. She has to convince him that she’s really talking – there’s no secret ventriloquist. She tells him about one magic spell that will shrink her antlers, only if they grew by magic. The reporter offers to go to the mountains to get them. Dad and the reporter go to the mountains of Colorado to get the herbs. On the way back, they get in a traffic accident and Dad is killed. The funeral director whom Gwendolyn interviewed takes care of the details. Meanwhile, Mom recognizes the keep-away spell. The only way to break it is for Gwendolyn to do what she hates most. Sheh loves being with other people. She hates isolation. So, they arrange for her to go into isolation at the zoo in the area for sick animals. Mom gives her a meditation book to read. Gwendolyn goes to isolation, does self-inquiry, and when she returns, she is finally able to access the dream-shifter. They don’t tell her anything useful. The reporter gives her the herbal tea to shrink her antlers. She feels the magic and takes charge of it, using her newly gained self-knowledge. She regains human form. It’s Thanksgiving. She has much to be thankful for. She can now go to Journalism Summer Camp.
In this whimsical and fast-paced adventure, Wickstrom (Huff…Puff…Grind! The Three Little Pigs Get Smart) introduces twelve-year-old Gwendolyn, who has a relatively normal life, until the night her house burns down–and, it turns out, is also a dream-shifter, someone who turns into the creature they’re dreaming about. When the smoke alarm goes off because of the fire, Gwendolyn is jolted awake–and gets stuck in the form of an elk. With an animal body, Gwendolyn must work with her family, friends old and new, and learn a bit of magic along as she strives to keep her life on its path–she’s trying to win a scholarship to a journalism camp–and faces new problems, like the onset of elk hunting season.

The concept of trying to maintain a normal life after such a transformation is unique and refreshing, and Wickstrom explores it with vivid characterization, a touch for playful comedy (chapter 8 is titled “Still an Elk, Again”), and much whimsical dialogue. The dialogue, in fact, often drives the story and worldbuilding, trusting readers to supply imaginative context, although making sense of a world where everyone knows about dream-shifting but few believe it’s real, and where birthday-party magicians wield real magic, would be easier if its rules were more clear and consistent, or if potentially fruitful details–like the frequent mention of schisandra berries, or the growing of Gwendlyn’s antlers–were developed further to deepen readers’ understanding of Gwendolyn’s milieu and dilemma.

Gwendolyn’s dedication to and love for journalism is admirable, and her commitment to becoming a good interviewer is inspiring. Readers who enjoy chatty, casually fantastical storytelling or fast-paced antics are sure to find something to enjoy in this story. Best suited for readers willing to suspend their disbelief, Dream-Shifter is a quick and fun read with a spark of magic.

Takeaway: A fast-paced, action-packed story of a girl turning into an elk–and still trying to win her scholarship.

Great for fans of: Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw, Bryan Chick’s The Secret Zoo.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B-
Marketing copy: A-