Top positive review
Much to like. More coming.
Reviewed in the United States on October 21, 2020
I am a fan of Jonathan Auxier, ordered "Willa the Wisp" before the publication date, and was pleased to receive it promptly. Having read nothing about the book ahead of time, I was surprised to find myself with an illustrated book for young children, rather than a longer tale like his splendid "The Night Gardener." How successful is Auxier in this shorter format?
There is much to like. The magic stable on a small island at the top of the world was a good beginning and reminded me favorably of Saint-Exupéry's "The Little Prince." But unlike the little prince, Auxier's young protagonist, Auggie, has his feet on the ground, where he feeds, cares for, and cleans up after amazing beasts–such as a hippopotomouse–that would have been at home in Rowling's "Fantastic Beasts." Auggie shares his island with the tattooed purple Miss Bundt (an ex-pirate?), who gives him advice. The island is owned by a mysterious Professor Cake, who gives orders to Miss Bundt, but does not appear in the story.
Within the magic stable are magic stalls, one of which leads into a swampy world where the diaphanous Willa the Wisp is pursued by three villains. Determined to rescue her, Auggie is captured instead and Willa shares his captivity. Fortunately, Auggie is able to outwit the hunters and bring Willa safely back to the magic stable, where she is restored to health after nearly evaporating when the moon sets.
But "Willa the Wisp" is clearly the first of what are to be a series of "Fabled Stable" books. The hunters are still at large, we have yet to meet Professor Cake, and Willa has been forced into a magic collar that inhibits her magical abilities. I would welcome a short series, but not a long one.
I was a bit disappointed with Fen, the grumpy magic stick, who is the closest thing Auggie has to a playmate, and I found Willa too silly to be interesting, but both may improve as the series is extended.
Olga Demidova's illustrations are colorful and appropriate, creating an attractive, ready to pick up book!