#893 What the Dickens by Gregory Maguire

What the Dickens by Gregory MaguireWhat the Dickens by Gregory Maguire

What the Dickens finds himself alive and names himself “What the Dickens.” He’s not sure what he is or why he’s here. He meets a white creature, he finds out is a cat named McCavity. He gets befriended by a mama bird who thinks he might as well learn to fly. He falls down a chimney and meets and old woman. At one point, he meets another creature like himself. Her name is Pepper. She explains to him that he is a Skibberee.

The Skibbereen fly around collecting teeth, which they plant in the ground, which become candles, which become wishes. Pepper calls herself an Agent of Change. What the Dickens finds out that life isn’t so easy. There are rules in place and societal expectations. Sometimes, someone else can get in trouble for something you did and it’s not fair. What the Dickens knows he has to help Pepper complete her task. He comes to find out that he has a special ability that the other Skibberee don’t possess. He’s still not sure where he came from, but he does find a place to be.

This story is all told by Gage, a cousin watching over his younger cousins during a terrible storm when people were supposed to have evacuated.

What I liked

This book was really fun. I’ve never really thought about the origins of the tooth fairy before. It is a bit of a strange custom. I’m not even sure it’s practiced outside of the United States. All cultures have their customs surrounding growing-up mile-markers, but I’m not sure how many of them make a big deal out of losing a tooth.

I never believed in the tooth fairy. I knew it was my mom. I was a fairly skeptical kid as far as things like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa Clause goes, which is awfully weird, considering how much I like stories about similar things. I’m a bit of a skeptic at heart I guess.

I like that Gregory created this entire world and mythology surrounding the tooth fairy. I don’t think I would have thought up the idea to create an entire race of little creatures with societal problems and external enemies that also happen to be tooth fairies. Good job, Gregory.

I love folklore and ghost stories. The Skibberee part of this book feels like folklore.

The main concept of this book is that someone is telling children a long story. I think we’ve fallen away from telling stories, orally, which is sad, because it’s a great thing. There’s nothing quite like sitting around, huddled close, listening to a story that unfolds as the minutes tick by. You can’t find the story anywhere else; you have to get it from the story-teller, so it’s in everyone’s best interest if you sit quietly and listen.

What I didn’t like

I was a bit concerned as to why these children were left in a house during a storm in which everybody evacuated, except them. There was also a bit of religious fanaticism going on, it feels like. If the government calls for an evacuation because of a storm, you should probably go. I also don’t like the idea of religious fanaticism.


Gather ’round, let’s listen to a story about the tooth fairy.

Weigh In

Did you ever believe in the tooth fairy?

What would you do if you had to hole up for a long storm?

#893 What the Dickens by Gregory Maguire was originally published on One-elevenbooks


#784 After Alice by Gregory Maguire

After Alice by Gregory MaguireAfter Alice by Gregory Maguire

Alice goes to Wonderland, but was she the only one? Couldn’t someone else fall down that rabbit hole just as easily as Alice did? Well, someone did. At first, Alice thought that she might be someone else, but she wasn’t. She knew she wasn’t Ada, because Ada was too unwieldy. She went on as Alice in the world of Wonderland.

In the meantime, Ada wanders away from her governess and finds herself down the very same rabbit hole that Alice went, but things are a bit different for Ada because Ada actually is a bit cumbersome. She has a bit of a disability and cannot move easily.

Ada soon encounters doors that stand in the middle of nothing and all sorts of strange people. There’s a strange tea party. There’s a mad queen.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Alice’s sister Lydia is finding life uncomfortable. Her mother died recently and her father is having a meeting with Charles Darwin. He’s brought with him a man named Mr. Winter, who has brought with him an escaped slave named Siam.

Siam soon tires of everything as well. He wonders into the drawing-room. There he finds a mirror on a mantle and decides to go right on through. He ultimately finds himself in the same place Alice and Ada found themselves. Where did everyone end up in Wonderland? Will they get back to the real world? What about that  governess? Can one stay in Wonderland indefinitely?

What I liked

I like pretty much everything that Gregory writes. I love how he looks at traditional stories and thinks up new  back stories for the characters in traditional stories. He gives life to characters that may have only had a brief mention in the traditional story. Ada was mentioned in the Alice books, but a mention was all she got.

I do like that other people went to Wonderland. Why should Alice be the only person to experience it?

What I didn’t like

I quite enjoyed it. Sometimes Gregory’s writing style is a little ethereal, and I don’t mean in a good way. I mean it flows, but in a flighty manner. It’s a bit difficult to keep up with at times. It’s kind of like you’re hearing the story second-hand by listening over someone’s shoulder.

This story isn’t quite as edgy as some of Gregory’s other stories.


What happened to Ada after she went back?

Weigh In

Would you go to Wonderland if you had the chance?

Would you be Ada?

#784 After Alice by Gregory Maguire was originally published on One-elevenbooks

#522 Matchless by Gregory Maguire

Matchless by Gregory MaguireMatchless by Gregory Maguire

The story of the Little Match Girl has been a story that has touched us for over a hundred years. The original story was penned by Hans Christian Andersen, which we’re exploring this year on One-elevenbooks. Matchless is Gregory Maguire’s version of the story.

A little boy lives with his mother in very cold rooms. They don’t have a proper house. They only have one match left. The little boy makes a village out of spare bits of this and that in his loft bedroom. His mother is a tailor. She sews for the queen.

One day the little boy goes out to find a boat for his make-believe people to sail in. He finds a slipper instead. He thinks it will be the perfect boat for his people. Little does he know that the slipper belongs to a little girl who sells matches to help her family make ends meet. Her mother is dead. It’s just her father and her two younger siblings.

On one particularly cold evening she loses her slippers. She doesn’t want to go home without any money. She strikes a couple of the matches and sees beautiful things in their brief light. The small amount of warmth does her no good and she succumbs to the elements before dawn breaks across the sky.

In the slipper the little boy found an address. The address is the little girl’s address. He and his mother go the address only to find a state of mourning. The young girl is dead and her father is devastated, but he has two younger children to take care of. The little boy’s mother sees nothing to do but to help him and so she does. The small group eventually becomes a family out of tragedy.

What I liked

The story of the matchgirl is very sad. It really makes a person just want to sit down and cry. This poor little girl’s family is so poor that she has to wander the street in rags trying to sell matches. Do you know how much a match costs? Less than a penny. Even if she sold an entire box of matches, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of money in her pocket. It’s a sad little story, but I do love that this version of the story isn’t quite so sad. The little girl still dies, but some good does come out of the misfortune.

What I didn’t like

This poor girl still dies. In more first-world countries we have largely eliminated situations like this little girl and this little boy lived in. I say largely because we still have people living very much like this little girl and little boy lived. They fall through the cracks of our society and live in shadows. We don’t pay any attention to them, even though we probably should. In countries that are not first-world, people live like this more often than they do in our first-world countries.

Trying to sell little bits of this and that to buy a little rice or a little wheat or a little bread is a way of life for many people in the world. Even in the United States there are people who wander the side of the road picking up aluminum beer cans that drunk people throw out of their car windows in order to make a few cents to buy something to survive on. It’s really sad. You would think we could get rid of this. You would think we could solve this problem, but we haven’t. As smart as we have become and as much knowledge as we now possess, we still cannot remedy the problem of families and individuals that are so poor they make the poverty line look like a million dollars.


I think I like this better than the original, but I haven’t reviewed it yet on this site, so we’ll see.

Weigh In

Do you think that if the Match Girl lived during our time that she would have fared better?

Considering that lighters would soon replace matches for most people in most situations, what do you think would have happened to the match girl and her family?

#420 Leaping Beauty by Gregory Maguire

Leaping Beauty by Gregory MaguireLeaping Beauty by Gregory Maguire

A person has to admit that the short nature of fairy tales could lend itself to the entire story being changed if only one or two simple things about the story were altered. Gregory proves this to be true in hits fairy tale collection.

Who doesn’t love a good fairy tale? Everybody loves fairy tales. Gregory has taken some of our most traditional fairy tales and turned them on their sides. Maybe there wasn’t a little girl bugging three bears, but maybe it was a fox instead. Maybe Cinderella was an elephant. Maybe Robin Hood was really a Robin, but he was also going to see his sick grandmother.

Gregory injects hilarity into these fairy tales with including some real-life problems and reactions to certain things. My favorite story out of this collection had to be So What and the Seven Giraffes. There was no Snow White, only a chimp named So What. His new bodybuilding gorilla step-mother didn’t like him, so she sent him off to be killed. The murderer didn’t want to kill him and let him go off into the woods alone, where he found a house that seven circus performing giraffes lived in. The giraffes taught him how to be a better person and have some responsibility.

What I liked

I knew Gregory was smart; I didn’t know he was hilarious. These stories are genuinely funny. They remind me of David Sedaris’ fairy tale book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. Gregory is very smart for playing on words and phrases in our traditional fairy tales to make them about something completely different yet about the traditional story at the same time. I may have to add Gregory to my list of hilarious authors to hang out with.

What I didn’t like

This book was definitely written for a younger audience in mind, but there are some more adult reactions and situations in this book that make me wonder. Of course a child probably wouldn’t notice these things, but I noticed them. None of these little mentionings are too terrible in and of themselves. You’re not going to throw this book across the room in disgust or anything, but as an adult you are going to notice these things. It’s more on par with how shows like Spongebob Squarepants sneak little bits of adulthood into their program. The kids don’t notice it, but the adults can get a little chuckle out of it.


It’s funny. Read it.

Weigh In

When it comes to fairy tales are you a traditionalist or do you like it when people retell the traditional stories in new and exciting ways?

Does anyone remember the book about the Stinky Cheese Man?

#514 Missing Sisters by Gregory Maguire

Missing Sisters by Gregory MaguireMissing Sisters by Gregory Maguire

Living in a home for home for orphans is never easy, but when you have physical difficulties such as being part deaf and having a speech impediment, it’s even more difficult.

Alice lives in an orphans home for girls run by some nuns. She spends a lot of time in the kitchen with one nun in particular. Alice has a hard time hearing and a hard time speaking. She gets made fun of from time to time. People constantly tell her how to pronounce things. When the girls are away on a retreat, a fire starts accidentally in the kitchen. Alice’s favorite nun is injured.

Alice makes a pact with God that she will consider being adopted when she knows what has happened to her favorite nun. The months go by and the nun doesn’t return. Alice goes to camp in the meantime. There she performs a duet with another girl named Naomi. Alice doesn’t particularly like Naomi, but she does the duet anyway. Alice is a gifted singer. She thinks people are chanting Naomi when she was up on stage, but they were really chanting Miami. In fact, people keep calling her Miami. Alice asks around and people tell her she was just at camp a few weeks ago. Alice knows she wasn’t at camp a few weeks ago. She pokes around and manages to get the address of the mysterious Miami.

Alice hops on a bus unbeknownst to any of the nuns and goes to Miami’s house. There she finds a girl who looks exactly like her. Miami’s parents have already adopted four children and have another on the way. They cannot adopt Alice as well. Everyone meets and agrees it’s best that Alice and Miami are allowed to see each other and develop a relationship.

In the meantime Alice gets better and better at speaking and listening. Someone finally tells her where her favorite nun is. A story to the newspaper gets Alice and Miami some attention. It also attracts people who potentially want to adopt Alice. Alice knows she cannot be with Miami all the time, but she’s found a little more of her past.

What I liked

This story is unlikely, but not something that would be unheard of. We’ve all heard these stories about twins getting separated and then finding each other again later in life. It happens.

Gregory wrote this book for young people to show them that being orphaned wasn’t the end of the world. There are still things you enjoy in life and there are still people who can be like family to you. Gregory knows from experience, not only did he spend time in an orphanage growing up, he has also adopted several children with his partner. He knows what orphaned kids go through. I think it’s great that he’s trying to put information and encouragement out there for kids who were just like him and for kids who were just like his adopted children.

I liked that Alice found somebody she could hold onto in her life. I liked that she was also recognized for the talent she had.

What I didn’t like

It’s sad, but it’s often that children placed in foster care are separated from their siblings. People just aren’t that willing to take on three kids who are siblings. Twins are more often kept together, but that isn’t always the case. I can see both sides of this argument. On the pro side, ideally it’s a good idea to keep siblings together because they’re used to being together and they could have their sibling(s) to rely on. On the con side, adopting a child is expensive. Providing for children is expensive. Not many people have the money to go adopting three children at once. Adopting a child will often run into the $30,000 range, that’s a house down payment. If you had to adopt three kids at that rate it would be like buying a house.

While it’s sad that Alice and Miami were separated, it was probably the best at the time for the adults involved. It wasn’t necessarily the best for Miami and Alice, but it’s better that at least one of them had a home to grow up in.


Mystery siblings…what fun!

Weigh in

If you discovered you had a mystery twin, what do you think his or her name would be?

How do you think you would feel not knowing where your family came from? [book-info title=”Missing Sisters” author=”Gregory Maguire”]