Renee Mihulka – Children's Book Reviews & Writer

The Land of Stories, 1 – The Wishing Spell

smallOVERALL: 2.5 2.5 Stars

Bridget’s rating: 4.5 4.5 Stars

Concept:4.5 Stars
Characters:2.5 Stars
Plot:2.5 Stars
Writing:2 Stars


Chris Colfer
Little, Brown Books


Description: This is the first book in the Land of Stories Series by Chris Colfer who you might know as Kurt Hummel on the TV series Glee. It follows the journey of twins Alex and Conner Bailey after they fall into a magical book that takes them to another dimension where all their childhood fairy tales have come to life. The story revolves around their quest to gather items for a Wishing Spell in order to go back home. Along the way the twins interact with numerous Fairytale characters – Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to name a few.

Concept: The book’s concept (and its famous author) is the main reason for its enormous success. What kid isn’t going to love a modern twist on all their favourite childhood fairytales? It is a clever concept and the best thing about it is that there is so much scope to evolve it.

Characters: The two main characters Alex and Conner are typical kids. Alex is bookish, brave and sensitive, while Conner is cheeky, thoughtless and unsure. I wouldn’t say there is a lot of depth to either of them, (#one dimensional) but they were likeable enough. The rest of the characters are ones we already know from fairy tales. Colfer has given some of them very distinct personalities, whilst others are just wooden ‘fillers’. However, what I did find interesting is that Colfer has filled his book with many strong female role models and in fact the female characters were better developed and more plausible than the male (Trollbella being a notable exception to this rule).

Plot: The plot is not this books strong suit. It seems that every time the twins had a problem – BINGO it is immediately solved with very little effort on their part. Lost in a new land? Here comes someone with the answer to your problems and a book for you to follow. Locked in a dungeon? No problem, one of your jailors will trade your freedom for a kiss. Sometimes it was actually quite ridiculous, but I’m sure you could argue that this was done on purpose – it’s meant to be like a fairytale! Yes; you could argue that, but it is supposed to be a modern day fairytale and honestly, I just found it annoying and weak. There were also many illogical inconsistencies peppered throughout. For instance, they have a journal that tells them exactly how to gather the items they need, but then they make a big deal of trying to ‘figure’ out what one of the items is? Wouldn’t that be in the journal as well? I found myself inwardly cringing and eye rolling at very regular intervals. However the overarching plot was good and contained a few interesting twists that were brought together quite well in the ‘happy ending’. Which is lucky, because it’s this happy ending that helps the reader forgive the book’s many inadequacies.

Writing: It would be so easy for me to be scathing and brutal about the writing and I am tempted, but being a writer myself I know how long it takes to write a book of this size; how long it takes to edit and massage and so I believe that a certain amount of respect has to be given to all novelists. Having said this though, the prose was clunky and repetitive. For example: “She was beaming with pride; she was so proud of her brother.” The dialogue was by far the best part although even that wasn’t great. But it is Colfer’s first middle grage book and so I guess we can forgive some looseness and lack of polish. He will only get better – I hope. I do think it could have been markedly improved with a good edit and wonder whether because he is famous they didn’t feel like they could edit him. Or, and I’m sorry, if this offends, but the editors thought it was so bad overall that a nip and tuck here and there wasn’t going to do much good, so they decided they might as well go in with the ‘authentic raw’ version. I guess we will never know.

This book isn’t something you would give your child to stretch their vocabulary or demonstrate good writing or plot. However it is a fun book that does try and incorporate some moral teachings. The fact that the twins have recently lost their father and are having trouble dealing with this loss and how travelling into the book and learning more about themselves helps with this, is a valuable lesson. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Colfer has created some very strong female role models which I always appreciate and recommend for girls growing up. Finally, he does put a lot of love and good feeling into this book and for a kid’s tale, this can only be a good thing. So if I step away as a cynical adult and view this book as a kid, I can see its appeal.

Things to ask and discuss:

1) Which of the fairy tale characters in the book were least like you imagined them to be? For example, did you think Goldilocks would become a fugitive? Why? Why not?

2) Talk about how Conner and Alex always seemed to be given help at the right time and escape easily from seemingly difficult situations. Do you think the author did this on purpose to make the book itself feel like a fairytale?

3) Do you think Red Riding Hood is a bad person?

4) What do you think happened to the Evil Queen? Do you think she is dead?

Come on comment, you know you wanna.

Book Reviews and Writer