Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Latest Oz Reading

I've just wrapped up my latest round of Oz reading, so this will be it for books for a little while. This time around I've read several comics (new and adaptations), three previously read prequels, the story of history's most infamous dictator coming to Oz, a show business autobiography, a romance written by a Royal Historian, and a movie tie-in book. So what's missing? Of course, original Oz fiction intended for younger readers! Well, then, I saved the best for last in Fantasy Baseball by Alan Gratz. Alex Metcalf is a baseball-crazy kid in Georgia who suddenly wakes up and finds himself on a bus with Dorothy, Button-Bright, Scraps, Tik-Tok, and other members of the Oz Cyclones baseball team. They're in a tournament where the teams are all made up of fictional characters, and the Cyclones need Alex's help! This is a fun romp of a book, and anyone with a passing knowledge of classic (and, in some cases, not quite yet classic) children's literature will get a kick out of it. The teams in the tournament are a lot of fun. My favorite was the all girl's team, the Avonlea Chicks. But there's also a serious understory going on, too, as Alex has to figure out why he's there. Real kids shouldn't be there, and certainly not for as long as he has. Then he gets the Big Bad Wolf mad at him, so Alex now has an enemy to face as well. As in Fables and the Sisters Grimm series and other storybook mashup titles like this, much of the action occurs with characters in the public domain. But Gratz gives some clever clues as to who some of the other characters are, and he even sought out permission to use some characters. It's a fun read but with a serious undertone. The Oz characters are handled well, and because of the nature of Ever After, the little inconsistencies can be overlooked (although Gratz gets them right much more often than not). The only character who might not ring true for Oz fans is Dorothy, as she is driven and a little grumpy as the Cyclones' manager and pitcher. But even that gets an in-story explanation. Some Oz fans will be annoyed at the color of Dorothy's cleats, but here I think the author plays with expectations of more than one kind of Oz fan. He sure knows his Oz, as there are references to several of Baum's books, and even to Sky Island. I recommend this book for fans of children's literature, baseball, and those who just want a good, fun read. Oz fans won't want to put it in the same canon as the Famous Forty, but many will want this in their collections.

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