cover image Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage

Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage

Kaye Umansky, illus. by Johanna Wright. Roaring Brook, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59643-507-0

Ten-year-old Clover Twig takes a live-in job keeping house for Mrs. Eckles, a disorganized witch in a cluttered, filthy cottage. The job suits level-headed Clover, who doesn't blink at living with a witch and thrives on tidying up. But she is unaware of a plot being hatched by Mrs. Eckles' evil sister, Mesmeranza, which threatens Clover, the clumsy neighbor boy and Mrs. Eckles' beloved (albeit smelly and spoiled) cat. Wright's childlike line drawings create a quirky atmosphere, providing a lively counterpoint to the matter-of-fact voice. There are some whimsically entertaining moments (at one point, Mesmeranza requests her grandmother's Poncho of Imperceptibility: "Anybody else would have stuck with a basic Cloak of Invisibility, but apparently ponchos were in at the time"), but the characters are not fully developed and the plot is weak on suspense and surprise. Umansky's (Solomon Snow and the Silver Spoon) rendering of speech patterns quickly becomes tiresome: Mrs. Eckles drops her consonants ("I've 'ad enough o' the forest at night for the time bein,' ") and Mesmeranza's assistant, Miss Fly, is perpetually congested. The deus ex machina that ultimately defeats Mesmeranza seems like a cop-out solution. Ages 9—up. (Aug.)