Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess.
Rosarium Publishing, Greenbelt, MD, 2016.
MG speculative fiction, 126 pages including extras.
Not yet leveled.
Lily Brown is not going to camp this summer, or on a fancy vacation. She’ll be staying home, eating her mom’s new ‘healthy’ organic cooking, caring for their plot in a community garden, and doing extra studying. Her mom goes away for a weekend and Lily’s almost done with her chore list when she loses an earring inside the oven and discovers a magical world where they aren’t too happy about the sudden lack of grease in her family’s kitchen.
There’s no way that my summary has done this book justice. There are so many things going on here, and everything is wonderful. This is a book that kids love to read, and that parents can feel good about their kids reading.
I first learned about this book in Bina’s archives, and she gave it such a rave review (plus the sample page shown had top-notch artwork) that I purchased it without any further information. Honestly, we all loved it. Even Husband found it interesting. The only reason it’s taken six months to write this review is that I’ve struggled with not simply jumping up and down for joy over this book.
The author does appear to have other books, but I couldn’t figure out a method of buying them outside of visiting her booth at a festival on the eastern side of the United States. We are really, really hoping for more Lily Brown stories.
If you didn’t guess from the title, Malice in Ovenland is also a subtle reworking of the Alice in Wonderland story. This is not your traditional retold tale – the elements are very subtle and the plot is strong enough to stand alone. One child had no familiarity with Alice in Wonderland and read it without needing any background. However, that’s one way this book rewards repeated rereading as you catch different reworked aspects of or nods to the inspirational novel.
Unlike the fantasia of Wonderland, Ovenland has a solid moral component. Spoiler Lily Brown does chores, her mother encourages healthy eating and prioritizes education, and Lily’s independent adventures actually reinforce her mother’s choices and wisdom, leading to a reconciliation when Lily realizes that turning from grease to vegetables makes her happier as well as healthier. End of spoiler
The first bit is heavy on monologue, and there are some pretty gross parts (vomiting, creatures bathing in grease). These may bother or disgust the adult reader, but are perfectly suited for young readers. One character does speak French and so French words are sprinkled into the dialogue. For one of my young independent readers this was confusing, but honestly the book was probably high for that child anyway. Although it’s not officially leveled anywhere yet, I’d peg this at a 5th grade to middle school reading level based on vocabulary. The plot isn’t fully understandable without the words, however in our family we loved it so much that the oldest child read it aloud to the youngest ones.
In terms of value for our money, this is the best comic I’ve purchased all year. Every member of our family has read it at least once (some multiple times), and I’m certain that when Baby is older he’ll enjoy it too. Hess delivers in terms of artwork, story, snappy dialogue, morals, drama, laughter, diversity, and zany fun!