“Suddenly they were in a small room, surrounded by stacks and stacks of money. Neither Henry nor Sam was willing to take his hand from the wall, but Sam reached down and groped in a bag at his feet. When he drew out his hand, his fingers were wrapped tightly around a bundle of old-fashioned-looking money. He cackled, ‘Now, this is fun! I could loot all day! At last I understand why my mean old papa ran back to the sea and the ships and the suckers!'”
That’s Sam. He’s the son of Blackbeard, the scourge of the seas. The little boy with him, Henry, and his little sister and his best friend and his best friend’s big sister have discovered a wall—a magic wishing wall in the middle of a cornfield, no less—that will take them where ever they’d like to go in Laurel Snyder’s briskly-paced adventure novel, Any Which Wall, illustrated by LeUyen Pham and released by Random House in May. Young Henry, very curious to meet a pirate, asks the wall if he and his time- and space-travelling crew can be tranported to a pirate house, where they can all meet “a really bad pirate, the worst pirate in the world!” Arrrgh! Well, Henry gets a nice little lesson in semantics when he meets, indeed, a very bad—as in, lousy—pirate: Blackbeard’s son “did not look like a pirate in the least. He was clean-shaven and neat as a pin, as well washed as Merlin had been filthy.” (Yup, the gang got to meet Merlin earlier in the book. Score. Emma also meets Guinevere, pictured below, a passionless “flat-voiced queen who breaks butterflies and cries without tears…”)
Sam immediately confesses that he’s not the type of pirate that Henry meant, though he does have a certificate of authenticity and did have a buccaneer’s baptism: “Truly, I’m the worst pirate in the world…I suppose by the standards of some bloodthirsty seamen, I’m hardly a pirate at all…There’s a lot of pressure, when you’re a second-generation pirate, to carry on the family name, but I—I couldn’t…I couldn’t grow a beard,” Sam says, putting his hands over his eyes.
Yeah. That’s one of my favorite parts of the book. Only Laurel, I say.
In Any Which Wall—which School Library Journal described as a book fantasy fans will enjoy, “but so will readers who like stories about ordinary kids”—the four children wish their way not only to the home of Blackbeard’s bumbling grown son, but also to Merlin’s castle, their small home-town of Quiet Falls when it was a small frontier town in the Old West (to meet the dastardly Wichita Grim and save a dog), and much more. With a well-paced plot, snappy dialogue, endearing characters (whose own separate coming-of-age journeys pulled me in), and LeUyen Pham’s fabulous drawings (I’ll say it again: Seven cheers for illustrated novels!), this is a book I enjoyed reading aloud to my children.
Laurel, pictured below, is here today to talk a bit about it, and I’ve got a handful of LeUyen’s lively drawings from the book to share, too. (LeUyen fans, note that she previously stopped by 7-Imp almost two years ago.) So, without further ado, here’s Laurel. I thank her for stopping by. Enjoy.
Laurel: “The genesis of the book is unromantic in the extreme. In fact, I pitched the proposal, because I desperately needed money for health care, when my husband lost his job during my second pregnancy. I’ll spare you the details (though if people want to read more about THAT they can visit Gwenda for the skinny). But it’s a dull tale. No muse was in sight back then. Or maybe she was there — just buried under a gigantic mound of bills!
But, once I figured out what I was doing and found my voice, it became a great pleasure to write (with my baby in a sling). Because what the book is, really, is a tribute. To several different things.
It’s a tribute to Edward Eager, who wrote so many of the books I adored as a kid. Who found a way to combine humor and magic and real kids and adventure in a way that felt timeless.
It’s a tribute to the state of Iowa, which I love. And to the idea that there are still towns where kids can ride their bikes unattended. And parents who aren’t afraid to let them.
It’s a tribute to my siblings (and best friend), for whom the kids in the book are named. And who are, for me, the best kind of family.
But, the more I think about it now, the more I feel it: Any Which Wall is a tribute to the idea of the childhood adventure story. By which I mean everything from The Penderwicks to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. Half Magic to Anne of Green Gables.
See, I loved those books as a kid. I was OBSESSED with magic, but also everyday rambling adventures and excursions afield and kids in other places. I never really read a lot of YA books. There weren’t so many back then. And, because of that, I kept reading (and re-reading) middle-grade books. Books in which kids had fun, got into scrapes, discovered secret places, even solved mysteries. But not books in which kids SAVED THE WORLD! Not books in which kids made out with each other and thought about themselves all day long. Books that took kids outside themselves, but just a little bit outside. Not so far they couldn’t come home.
I think kids grow up very fast now. I see middle school girls obsessed with Twilight, and that’s fine. But there is something really important, I think, about having books where the adventure is the thing. The adventure beyond the door that might be real. The adventure that stems from a kid’s own need to see and do and roam.
Kids today are going to become navel-gazers. They’re going to deal with global warming and self-esteem issues and watch movies about dystopian worlds and vampires. Which is fine. But I just think that when you’re seven—or ten or eleven—it might be nice to read books in which other kids experience, explore, grow, change, learn, and trust in the world around them.
Any Which Wall is not a BIG book. It is a story about four kids who find a magical wall in a field near their house and use it to travel to places like Camelot and the Wild West. Which is STILL what I’d do if I found such a wall. But the problems that Henry and Emma and Susan and Roy encounter are problems they can grasp. Things they can fix. At the heart of the book is the hurt dog the kids find in the past and bring home with them. (What to do with it?).
And then, too, the oldest kid, Susan, who’s twelve, has to decide who she wants to be. Straddling the worlds of childhood and teen-hood, she has to decide what to believe — and who to become.
Which is probably the biggest adventure there is!“
ANY WHICH WALL. Text © 2009 by Laurel Snyder. Illustrations © 2009 by LeUyen Pham. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Random House, New York, NY. All rights reserved.