Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Magic Warble by Victoria Simcox

    The Magic Warble by Victoria Simcox is a juvey fiction novel geared towards children ages 9-13. After having read it, I would personally shift the age category a tad to exclude thirteen-year-olds and include eight-year-olds. While the book holds its charms I believe that it is a little too simplistic for someone entering their teens and more appropriate for a kid in their first years of middleschool. I don’t mean for this to sound like a snub but rather insight gathered from children I know and the books they’re most inclined to read. Now, let me amaze you with my awesome summarizing abilities(because three years of college has to have taught me something…right?). The Magic Warble chronicles the journey of twelve-year old Kristina—a shy, intelligent girl who is often the brunt of jokes and ridicule. Upon receiving a very unusual Christmas gift, Kristina is hurled into the land of Bernovem. All at once, Kristina is charged with using her gift—knowm as the Magic Warble—to restore peace to an ailing land and she enters into a long journey of intrigue, whimsy, and danger.
    The Magic Warble is a cute book, though I did find myself constantly nitpicking technical issues. One of the first oddities I came across was the way that the dialogue is written. Kristina’s words go from being very sophisticated—perhaps too sophisticated for a girl of her age—to very age appropriate. Now, while preteen girls with great manners and decent vocabularies are far and few between, I wouldn’t have been opposed to Kristina’s sophisticated dialogue and well-groomed manners if they had been at least partially explained. For instance, I was a very loquacious little girl. One of my favorite past-times was to read whatever dictionary happened to be lying around and to underline pretty words to be used in conversation. I liked to scour thesauruses and bedazzle my speech with what I felt were grown-up sounding words in order to project an air of maturity. I was born eccentric, so my speech habits—while unusual—made sense to those who knew me. Readers get to know very little of Kristina before her journey begins and I wish that Simcox would have given us a better sense of why she speaks so articulately for a girl her age(perhaps by establishing that like me she loved to speak as though she were much older). Now, I do have to keep in mind that this is a juvy fiction book. For those unfamiliar with the differences between juvy fiction and young adult fiction I would ask that you indulge my inner know-it-all and allow me to give a brief explanation(if you want to skip my little tangent feel free to do so. I promise I won’t be too offended). Juvy fiction is simply an age category that means that people of certain ages will be most drawn to these books because a) the protagonists are usually of a similar age to the readers and b) the story is written in a way that is easy enough for that age group to understand but complicated enough to hold their interests. In the case of juvy fiction, the ages targeted are usually 8-12. Naturally, some books target the upper or lower range of this age group(for example, some books are more appropriate for a kid of 12 than a kid of 8). Young Adult fiction usually targets readers ages 12-19. A brief perusal of this blog will reveal that I mostly review classics or young adult fiction(specifically science fiction and fantasy). As a reviewer, I have to be cognizant of the fact that I can’t judge a book geared towards a seventeen-year old in the same way as a book geared towards a ten-year old. I had to continuously remind myself while reading The Magic Warble of this fact. For instance, the pacing in this book is perfectly appropriate for a middle schooler but would be a big no-no in a book for a highschooler. But I digress.
   Aside from Kristina’s strange speech habits I ran across a few sentence structure issues(which I only feel the need to mention because I believe that a middle-schooler might notice them as well), the biggest of which was the need for comma splicing. I love commas. Who doesn’t love a good comma? When I first learned how to properly(or what I thought was properly) use commas I felt the need to use one every other sentence. Commas were like condiments for me; they were my pepper and my salt. However, as anyone who has ever taken a creative writing class will tell you, sometimes enough is enough. As a general rule commas are used to separate thoughts contained within a sentence. They are used to indicate a pause or an aside and are wonderful tools when used correctly. There are several instances in The Magic Warble where the use of commas are not only incorrect but also create a very choppy effect. For example:

"The pile of laundry had been replaced by a pile of leaves, and instead of the basement floor, it seemed to be grass beneath her."

Read this setnence aloud, making sure to take a breath whenever a comma appears. It isn’t very coherent, is it? Aside from the improper placement of commas, the latter half of the sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense. This entire sentence can be re-written by simply changing the placement of a comma and reworking some muddled wording and be all the better for it. Observe:

"The pile of laundry had been replaced by a pile of leaves and, instead of the basement floor, there was grass beneath her."

It isn’t the best sentence in the world but it makes more sense written this way than it did previously. Yes, I know I sound like a highschool grammar teacher. No, I’m not trying to claim that I’m some sort of super-awesome-special-spifftastic writer. Little snafus like this happen to every writer no matter their skill. However, the aforementioned example is not an isolated occurrence. There are dozens of sentences that feature either ill-placed commas or irrelevant commas and I believe that it is important that Simcox be made aware of these snafus so that she can be mindful of not making the same mistakes in the future. One final nitpick I has is the repetition of two words: suddenly and then. The fact that the narrative is fast-paced doesn’t bother me because it’s perfectly appropriate for this genre(juvy fiction fantasy). Younger children tend to have short attention spends—ESPECIALLY where reading is concerned—so the pacing of books aimed at them has to be quick enough to keep their interests. What I did have a problem with was the way that sudden occurrences or plot progressions were introduced. Almost every event is prefaced with a "suddenly" or "then". I’m sure that Simcox did not realize just how often she uses these words but they are none the less used a lot and quickly become repetitious. By the time I was halfway through the book I literally cringed every time suddenly popped into a sentence.
   All nitpickery aside, this is a cute book. I like the story and the characters as well as imaginative little details such as the Magic Warble itself and entirely made-up creatures like the zelbocks. I loved how the stereotypical bully characters were not just used and ditched but rather incorporated into the adventure. I think the fact that Kristina has a pet rat instead of something much more girly and feminine is awesome. The illustrations throughout the story were very pleasant and they reminded me of the illustrations in The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. Most of us older kids will be able to appreciate the charm of this book, even if we nitpick it to death, but I would recommend this story be read by a younger audience. It would be a nice gift for a niece or nephew(as the story boasts a female and a male lead) or a good book for a teacher to read to a young class. My advice to anyone who reads this book is to just take it for what it is: a cute story aimed at children. I might have poked and prodded it quite a bit during my review, but eventually I did manage to comfortably ignore certain technical issues and just enjoy adventuring through Bernovem with Kristina. So if you’re looking for something to read to your kid or a gift for a child’s birthday you should give The Magic Warble a try.

Rating: 3/5

Victoria Simcox
Magic Warble Giveaway

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