Elf Dog and Owl Head

Candlewick. Apr. 2023. 240p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781536222814.
Gr 3-5–Anderson brings to life the magical world found in Mount Norumbega, in this stand-alone novel. Clay O’Brian is tired of the virus that has forced him to stay home away from friends and enjoys the time he spends in the wilderness exploring. When elf-dog Elphinore is locked out from her home beneath the mountain, she comes across Clay in the woods and their adventures together begin. Elphinore is the reason Clay befriends an owl-headed boy named Amos, while Clay’s older sister DiRossi forms an unlikely friendship with a sad, blue giant named Vud. At the Midsummer Night Festival, when the magical worlds intertwine, the newfound friends will discover whether their bond can withstand strict, fantastical rules. Wu’s illustrations throughout are black-and-white pencil, which adds to the otherworldly quality of the plot. While the story has magical lands and creatures, the backdrop of the COVID-19 shutdown grounds the action in something relatable. The O’Brian family’s stress about becoming ill, paying bills, and finding work allows room to explore the trauma of the pandemic. At times, the world-building is underdeveloped, but the engrossing presentation of the different worlds will draw readers in. Other than Anderson’s companion series, “Norumbegan Quartet,” comparable titles include Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s “Spiderwick Chronicles” and The Demon Sword Asperides by Sarah Jean Horwitz.
VERDICT A stellar novel with read-aloud potential, this whimsically imaginative adventure will thrill those who want magic mixed with reality.

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