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Horns & Wrinkles
By Joseph Helgerson
Illustrated by Nicoletta Caccoli
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

Horns & Wrinkles is a children's fantasy novel, perhaps best described as Southern magic realism. It is written for children from about 9-14, although it can be enjoyed by older folks too.

Clair lives in a small town along the Mississippi river, along a stretch that is known among the locals as being prone to magical happenings. She starts to find out just how magical one day when her cousin Duke, a chronic bully, takes things just a bit too far and threatens to drop her off the bridge... and then does. She is saved by a strange old lady in a rowboat, and by pure coincidence, Duke is almost immediately cornered by bullies and thrown off the bridge himself. But when he hits the water, something strange starts to happen -- his nose starts to grow. It quickly becomes apparent that his nose continues to enlarge every time he tries to bully someone.

But this is just the start of the strange happenings. Duke decides that he is going to camp out in the woods while they figure out what to do about his (now humongous) nose, and quickly meets up with some strange creatures (river trolls, as it turns out) who don't think his nose is funny at all. As a matter of fact, they fully appreciate his bullying, his lying, his willingness to run small errands for them... Duke decides that the trolls are quite a bit more interesting than Clair and his family, and joins the river trolls in their quest to find fallen stars (it's a long story).

Meanwhile, Duke's parents have mysteriously been turned to stone, and the traditional remedy for river magic (splash them with some river water) proves ineffective. The only way to turn them back is to find the trolls that did this too them and bribe them to undo the curse. Which means that Claire is going to have to go join Duke and his troll friends in their insane quest.

The illustrator, Nicoletta Ceccoli, adds small illustrations here and there, mostly at the chapter headings. This is not a picture book, but the illustrations are a good complement to the story. They are well-drawn but still stylized, the characters having large heads and big eyes, making them look somewhat like dolls. The style could be compared to Tim Burton's claymation.

All in all, this is a very good book, and is likely to be enjoyed by ages of about nine on up to adulthood. It is somewhat reminiscent of Ingrid Law's Savvy or Joan Aiken's Armitage stories, introducing magic smoothly into the modern world without the aid of secret wizardry schools or magical wormholes through the simple expedient of denying that there is anything unusual about witches and trolls living among us. The story isn't too big on character development and it's is just a bit silly at times, but it is a fun adventure in an interesting world. It is particularly well-written as a work of children's magical realism, which is not as common as it should be.

ISBN-10: 0618616799
ISBN-13: 9780618616794
Reading Level 5.1

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