on December 26, 2002
L. Frank Baum's spectacularly illustrated Little Wizard Stories Of Oz, written for a younger audience than the books in the official Oz series, are the perfect introduction to Baum's utopist fairyland. Containing characters not only from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz but from the second and third titles, The Marvelous Land Of Oz and Ozma Of Oz, the 169-page volume is composed of six short pieces, each teaming two of Baum's most popular Oz inhabitants. While the stories are delightful and comic, a subtle lesson in common sense or ethics subtly underscores each. At about 24 pages a piece, these narratives make excellent bedtime stories; each moves quickly and can be reread over and over (adults can read the entire book in about an hour). Readers already familiar with the other Oz titles will find that the Little Wizard stories fit right into the fairyland's established history and continuity. John R. Neill's extraordinary talent as an illustrator has rarely been put to better use than it has been here; his drawings are brightly colored and full of atmosphere, detail, and humor.
In The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger, the two talking beasts, tired of passively guarding the never-threatened Ozma at her throne, decide to competitively test their animal natures. In Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse, Jack, who lives in a pumpkin patch so he can easily replace his head as needed, finds himself in the Winkie country disastrously without a spare. In The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, the later topples overboard while the two are out adventuring in a giant corncob boat. The Scarecrow, stuffed with straw, tries to reach his comrade but finds he can only float on the surface.
Each of the six stories contains an element of threat to which the primary or secondary characters react with fear or dismay. 'Little Dorothy' and Toto, carelessly straying too far from home, are kidnapped by the size-shifting giant Crinklink; Tik-Tok the Clockwork Man finds his metal body broken to pieces by a blow from the angry Nome King's mace; and Ozma and the 'Little Wizard' find themselves beset by three mischievous, seemingly undefeatable goblins. In typically clever fashion, Baum quickly disarms those elements which might frighten younger children or be a cause of concern for adults. The Hungry Tiger decides he wants to eat a 'fat baby' to prove his bestial nature, and the Cowardly Lion, not to be outdone, says he's going to 'rip a person to shreds,' but no baby-devouring is ever accomplished. At their first sight of a little lost girl, the Tiger and Lion compete over who can come to her aid first and best, their original boasting intentions entirely forgotten.
The book's humor is dry and the outright jokes well-paced to about one a story. The Tin Woodman, for instance, lying helpless on the bottom of a lake and waiting to be rescued, says to the frustrated Scarecrow and their bird helpers, "Hurry up, please. You've no idea how damp it is down here."
The Little Wizard Stories Of Oz are so pleasant and charming that adults will enjoy reading them for their own pleasure, and enjoy reading them again to children. Full of other-worldly imagination and pep, the book can be used for teaching and group discussion, or strictly for entertainment.
on January 14, 2001
We reserve 5 stars for a very few books, but this book was much loved by my eight year old, who enjoyed how it contains things which relate to the other books in the series. I found it a definite pleaser as well, as books which allow children to enjoy being a child and actively use their imagination are very rare these days (as opposed to the more recent trend which aims at a precocious sophistication for a "miniature adult" audience).
If you like the tone of this and other books in the Oz series you should also check out these books:
• "Mother West Wind" book series by Thornton W. Burgess; • Selma Lagerlof's "The Wonderful Adventure of Neils"; • "7X7 Tales of a Seven Sleeper" by Hanna Johansen; • "The Seven Year Old Wonder Book" and "King Beetle Tamer" by Isabel Wyatt; • "The Uncle Wiggley Story Book" by Howard R. Garis; • "The Never Ending Story" and other books by Michael Ende; • Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series; • Astrid Lindgren's "The Brothers Lionhearted" (her best, better than Pipi by miles!); • and of course the classic fairy tales - our favorite is "The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales" Pantheon Edition with an introduction by Padraic Colum and commentary by Joseph Campbell, ISBN 0-394-49414-6 and 0-394-70930-6.