Welcome to one of the May 28th stops on the blog tour for Magical Neighbors by Mary Ellen Spencer, organized by Audiobookworm Promotions. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for spotlights, audio excerpts, reviews, interviews, and more!
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About the Book
by Mary Ellen Spencer
Illustrator: Meg Roby
Photographer: Annie Langan
Published 25 April 2021
Page Count: 37
Published 21 April 2021
One Night Stand Studios
Narrator: Rosemary Benson
Length: 40 minutes
Genre: Children’s Fantasy, Fairytales
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
The sudden appearance of a portly gnome on a humdrum, ordinary day definitely threw me for a loop. When this gnome began to speak to me about building him a home in our neighborhood, I know my eyes were as big as saucers, but I tried to appear casual. And I even managed to answer graciously, “Sure, I’d be glad to.” Then other gnomes who wanted to live in my neck of the woods showed up. Fairies, too! They all became part of my world. And their world became part of mine. Life’s been astonishing ever since.
Maybe you’ve never met anyone who lives beyond fairy doors. Well, I’d like you to meet my new neighbors. They’re really quite wonderful in their own magical way. Knock on their doors and have a chat. Make friends with fairies and garden gnomes. Come spend some time with us!
My Rating: 4 Stars
Consider liking my review on Goodreads
I was granted complimentary access to Magical Neighbors via Audible as part of my participation in a blog tour for this title with Audiobookworm Promotions. Thank you to all involved in affording me this opportunity! My thoughts are my own and my review is honest.
Magical Neighbours is the story of a gardener who meets all the tiny magical folk living in her garden, befriends them, and helps them build magical portal doors to their fae homes in the trees of her garden. It’s whimsical, quippy, and overall a lot of fun!
I love the unique and very detailed personalities that have been prepared for each of the magical neighbours and I can imagine infinite possibilities for follow-up stories of adventures had with these little friends. A lot of the humour comes from playing off stereotypes, like the elder who tells it like it is or the pretty young himbo distracted by a beautiful woman. With that said, some of the stereotypes may rub some readers the wrong way. For example, Morioka San is voiced as an elder man with a vaguely Japanese accent to go with his Japanese name and when we meet him he has complaints about working in a rice field.
This book is classified listed as a “children’s fantasy novel,” and although I enjoyed the cute story, I must disagree with this categorization. At 37 pages print with illustrations included this isn’t even a novella. It’s a very appropriate length for children’s fiction and should otherwise be called a short story. In terms of calling it children’s fiction, I’m not sure this is appropriate for the age group being targetted with a 37-page illustrated story. The humour comes from understanding societal stereotypes and the whimsical musings of a gardener well into her adult years, so children under a certain age aren’t going to “get it.” I haven’t seen a PDF version of the full print book (only the PDF of illustrations available with the audiobook) but given that this audiobook is 40 minutes long I must assume there’s a lot of text on each page. This isn’t a 2-3 sentences per illustration sort of book, which also makes it inappropriate for the youngest of young readers. I guess what I’m saying is this book would be more appropriately marketed as a storybook for readers who are young at heart and looking for a fun escape, rather than actually calling it children’s fiction and expecting most kids still interested in 37-page storybooks to enjoy the writing.
The illustrations are mixed media pieces featuring photography with overlaid traditional illustrations. Real fairy doors have been installed in someone’s garden and photographed, and illustrations of the fairies (and their pets) have been cut out and inserted into these scenes. The doors are beautiful, colourful, and remind me of the fairy doors someone has installed in a few of the local parks near me. They’re so much fun and my daughter loves pointing them out! The illustrations appear to be done in either watercolour or water-based markers and have a loose, juvenile feel to them. I truly don’t mean that to be insulting, lots of children’s illustrators go for a childlike style. My only reason for pointing it out is that I’m not sure this was the best style choice for this sort of mixed media project. Placing these minimalistic illustrations against photography highlights how flat and simple the illustrations are and makes them look unfinished. If the illustrations had more shading and depth and/or presented more realistic anatomy proportions, perhaps the blending would look less jarring. Alternatively, if the illustrator also drew the backgrounds, the style would be perfect and nothing would look out of place.
Rosemary Benson’s narration is lively and endearing, and she is able to make each and every character sound distinct. This book was pleasant to listen to, and I can imagine Rosemary doing an excellent job with a wide variety of children’s titles. My one critique falls once again on the Japanese character, Morioka San. The author went Japanese with the name and stereotypes. The illustrator drew an Asian man with fairy wings. The narrator attempted a Japanese accent. Please pronounce the name correctly! San is not a surname, it’s an honorific. Morioka San should sound like two distinct words, split exactly where the space is. In this book’s narration, it sounded like his name was Mario Kasan. This is actually what made me pause and look at the illustrations PDF when this character came out and complained about the rice fields because I wasn’t sure if this character was meant to be Asian or not and the rice field comment (as previously mentioned) concerned me.
Overall this is a cute story with the potential to spur countless more stories about these characters, and I think it’s a fun little read for young-at-heart fantasy readers. I have my doubts about it working specifically as a young children’s book, but I do think it has merit as a short story in general.
About the Author
Mary Ellen Spencer lives in a forested neighborhood near Harrods Creek in Kentucky with her cute husband Hank and her trusty dog Annie. She likes to make things—fairy doors and birdhouses from gourds, men of the forest carved from stone, and woodspirits carved into cedar. She enjoys growing things—like trees and hostas and oak leaf hydrangeas. And sometimes stories spill out.
About the Narrator
Rosemary Benson is an award-winning Audible #1 best-selling narrator, singer, educator, and stage actress. She has appeared across the U.S., Canada, and Italy, and regularly performs with several ensembles and big bands. A passionate learner and audiobook fan, she is at home in many genres. Her musical ear allows her to produce myriad accents for storytelling, while her expertise in differentiating instruction guides her abilities in nonfiction. She lives across the river from Philadelphia with her husband in a house full of musical instruments and books.
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