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For Readers Age 9 - 12
Grades 4th - 8th

Horns and Wrinkles - Review
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Publisher's Description:

Helgerson, Joseph. (2006) Horns and Wrinkles. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN-10: 0618981780. Publisher originally listed grades 4-6 but more recently grades 5-9, ages 10-14.

How can you tell if a river’s under a spell? River trolls, rock trolls, blue-wing fairies—the usual suspects—the stretch of the Mississippi where Claire lives has rumors of them all, not that she’s ever spotted any. But then Claire’s cousin Duke takes a swim and sprouts a horn—a long, pointy, handsome thing. After that, Claire doesn’t have much choice but to believe that something rivery is going on, especially since she’s the only one who can help Duke lose his new addition.

In the tradition of grand river adventures, Joseph Helgerson’s tale is as twisty and unpredictable as the Mississippi River itself, while an unusual cast of characters adds pepper to the pot. Readers of all ages will enjoy getting in—and out of—trouble with Claire and Duke in this nimble, sharp, and funny fantasy.


Respect for self and others:This includes integrity (adherence to a code of conduct or value system), honesty vs. manipulation or lying, compassion, caring for others (characters not focused on getting their way no matter what) self respect--main character does not let others denigrate him or her; use of self control and self-discipline ; taking charge of own behaviour; fairness to others (such as taking turns and avoiding the blame game). Reader should ask themselves “How does the protagonist depict their peers?” “Would you want others to treat you this way? Should everyone act this way?” This includes true friendships that do not involve regular lying, deceit or manipulation; considering consequences of actions prior to acting; owning up to responsibility once an action has been taken.

The main character, Claire, is steadfast in her concern for her cousin Duke in spite of his behaviour towards her and others. She is strongly non-judgmental yet not naive, and shows intelligence in thinking through how to accomplish her goal (which is returning her relatives to “normal”). She is a great example of self-discipline, responsibility and courage.

Portrayal of Authority figures:The positive portrayal of parents, teachers, police officers and other “good” authority figures common in a child’s life is a positive influence upon the child’s own moral development. This includes actively-parenting mother and father figures. Minimization of parental involvement in the character’s activities or the portrayal of authority figures as inferior present poor role models. Also to be avoided are main characters that deceive parents and teachers to accomplish goals, and overuse sarcasm towards authority figures. Ask yourself “Are parents seen as positive or negative influence in the character's life?”

Duke the bully is insulting to authority figures, as expected. However, Claire is extremely respectful and helpful, and is the focal point of the book as its narrator. Thus Duke’s behavior towards adults is sufficient to make the character believable without being overdone. Authority figures (sheriff, family members, other adults) are portrayed as logical, helpful and in charge.

Citizenship and Patriotism:Loyalty to family, team or group, school, community and world; caring for and being considerate of these groups. Pride to be part of that group or nationality.

Claire shows extreme loyalty to the family, which drives her to helping cousin Duke, the bully. She states (p. 48) ”every kid deserves a home, even him”. Her self-talk helps readers fit into the culture of the community which she clearly supports and respects. In the end, as families are brought back together, the entire town swells with joy.

Justice and Balance:a just distribution between good and evil (with good outweighing evil in the presence of the storyline); demonstration of right and wrong; making decisions to enact the above values rather than simply choosing from two bad possibilities; Ask yourself “Is the emphasis on the positive elements or negative?”

Good and evil are clearly differentiated, with good always having the upper hand as narrated by Claire. Her choices to act rather than not act, to care rather than not care, are very strong. Supporting characters, whether human or magical, are easily distinguished by their form as well as whether they are good or bad. The ultimate solution for undoing the troll spell rests on doing a genuine act of kindness. Eventually, goodness can even be seen amongst the river trolls.

Aesthetic Aspects of Life Experience:Look for a storyline portrayal of beauty, health, and selfless love vs. hedonistic behaviours (sexuality, selfishness, obsessiveness, materialism), profanity, gore and violence. Are nature and environment respected or exploited? Look for dark elements; watch out for humor that is negative, denigrates others excessively, uses metaphors to denigrate the sacred.

The only hedonistic behaviours are those by the antagonists (Duke the bully, and the trolls) and would be expected of their characters as contrast to the virtuous behaviour of the good characters (everyone else). The natural elements of the river and surrounding area are appreciated and respected. Humor is positive.

Other Things to Consider:Other aspects of this book of interest or importance. For example, does it portray Wiccan practices and accurate use of tools of which some parents might object, does it contain hidden meanings in metaphors that may prove offensive to some families; does it address personal issues such as puberty or pregnancy.

A delightful story that is perfectly appropriate for younger, gifted readers as well as middle-school readers. Magical concepts and characters are depicted similarly to as in classic folklore rather than instructional (as often depicted in modern entertainment). Truly a modern day classic!

So what do YOU think? Read our thoughts on the book and join in the discussion at the Litland Reviews Blog!


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