This novel is an autumnal treasure. Peter spends most of the story in the world of the woods, where his motley crew eats vegetable stew, carves giant jack-o’-lanterns, and waits for the day when they’ll travel to Amberville to sell the woodcarver’s wares. There’s a Wonderland feel to it all, enhanced by the woodcarver’s three-foot-tall assistant Master Keys and a chatty squirrel. A horror component heightens tension as well: oily, rancid, child-eating witches threaten Peter and his friends, leading one to a bloody end at Peter’s hand.
Scenes of mild violence are interspersed with tender moments of friendship and hope, leading readers to cheer for Peter. Peter doesn’t come to understand the world he’s in or why he’s there until almost the end of the story; although this will keep readers guessing, they may also wonder why characters introduced earlier are important or what’s actually real. But that element of suspense adds flavor to Peter’s spooky trek. LaSalle has written a dreamy harvest story that will haunt and delight.
Takeaway: Imaginative middle grade readers and fall fanatics will be charmed and spooked by LaSalle’s modern fairy-tale adventure.
Great for fans of: Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Roald Dahl’s The Witches.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: B-