Americans definitely got a raw deal in the transfer from England. Cover? Title? The prize goes to Britain. But the dedication remains the same:
This book is dedicated to the memory of the author E. Nesbit. Her wonderful books about magic and ordinary family life inspired us both to write this story in tribute--a kind of "Four" Children and It for today's readers.
When Milly, Michael, Jason and Jess move to a town in the middle of nowhere, the last thing they expect to find is a magic book - with its own talking bookworm called Skribble! The grumpy worm promises that "The Genie Handbook" can make them into genies in six easy steps. Soon they are diving into a world of weirdness and wonder, trouble and trickery, trying to make each other's wishes come true. But when the wishes start to go wrong the magic seems scarier. What is the secret of the mysterious couple watching from the shadows? Why is Skribble so afraid of them? And if the children's greatest wish of all is finally granted, will their world change for better or for worse?
Omniscient novels with three or four main characters inevitably face the challenge of memorable heroes. It's even more challenging when those characters are related. How to distinguish between a pack of siblings in the reader's mind? How to reveal nuances that the other protagonists ignore as too familiar to notice?
Chapman and Cole do a lovely job on all points. Michael, Milly, Jess and Jason are new step-siblings. This leaves plenty of discoveries for the children to make about each other as the story develops, while still presenting us with a united band of heroes. The children each have their quirks--Michael is the gamer, Milly the baby, and dreamer, Jess is the perfect, picky older sister, while Jason is the brain. Each personality has a role in the plot.
The narrating voice is very British, which I loved, and I laughed out loud more than once. The magic goes wrong in classic Nesbit style, which of course I couldn't resist.
Michael looked at Jess and stared. "Oh ... my ...!"
"You'd better not be looking at my underwear!" she told him furiously.
"Not your underwear." Michael's face turned a shade of green. "The X-ray vision's getting worse. I can see your skeleton! All the bones and bits of gristle and your brain! Ugh..." He turned, staggered behind a car, and was sick--very, very noisily.
Family plays a big part in the story--it just begs to be read aloud at bedtime.
Be a Genie in Six Easy Steps is truly to Nesbit what Snyder's Any Which Wall is to Edward Eager: a lively continuation of a great author's legacy. One of my favorite books of 2009.
Note: The authors have published a sequel in the UK: Genie and the Phoenix.