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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Jennifer Murdley's Toad: A Magic Shop Book* by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Gary A. Lippincott- young readers book review
Also by Bruce Coville:

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher: A Magic Shop Book

The Skull of Truth: A Magic Shop Book
Jennifer Murdley's Toad: A Magic Shop Book
by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Gary A. Lippincott
Ages 9-12 176 pages Magic Carpet Books November 2007 Paperback    

You may have heard the expression “Beauty is skin deep.” This is true, but it is of small consolation to realize the truth of it when you are not as attractive as others around you at the “skin,” or surface, level. If given the choice between looking beautiful on the outside but being ugly on the inside, or being ugly on the outside but being beautiful on the inside, what would you decide? This choice confronts Jennifer Murdley in Bruce Coville’s Jennifer Murdley's Toad. It’s another book in Coville’s Magic Shop series of books, recently re-released this year by Magic Carpet Books, and it’s sure to please anyone who likes Goosebumps-style books of suspense, magical doings, and mild horror.

As in all of the Magic Shop books, Jennifer Murdley is faced with a situation that leads her to a strange magic shop run by an even stranger old and wrinkled gentleman known as Mr. S.H. Elives. At the start of the book, she is in the nightmarish situation of having to wear her brother’s underpants to school because hers are being washed, and not wearing any isn’t an option her father will let her take.

What’s worse is that she entrusts this secret to her best friend, Ellen, who can’t keep the information to herself and tells Anette, who tells Maya, who tells Sharra (who is a beautiful and doesn’t like Jennifer), “And Sharra, as could have been expected, told the world.” Picked on already because of her plain (or in some people’s eyes, ugly) appearance, having the news spread around to the entire school that she’s wearing her brother’s underpants is a social crisis that Jennifer finds very hard to face.

After school, she heads to “Smokey Hollow’s only tourist attraction, the Applegate Folk Museum,” to do research for a writing assignment. Here Jennifer Murdley's Toad differs from the other books in the series, in which the kids go to the town’s library, and the librarian, Miss Hyacinth Priest, plays an important part in the outcomes of the plots. In this book, old Miss Applegate, who runs the museum, takes the place of Miss Priest in that she helps Jennifer confront the problems she faces.

Unfortunately, when Jennifer leaves the museum, on her way home she sees Sharra and a group of her friends hanging out “on the corner of Oak and Main,” and they chase her to find out if she’s actually wearing any underwear at all. She runs away, but when she stops to catch her breath, “she realized she was on a street she had never seen before.” This is when she encounters the aforementioned magical shop, meets S.H. Elives, and buys a talking toad named Bufo that changes her life forever.

A whole new set of problems enters her life. The toad talks constantly, imitates famous celebrities, and is sought after by a witch because it possesses a Jewel of Happiness in its forehead. Worst of all, when it kisses someone once, that person changes into a toad, and if he or she stays a toad for nine hours without passing the curse on, that person will remain a toad for the rest of his or her life. If he kisses the same person again, he or she does not change back but instead doubles in size! When her little brother becomes a toad and is stolen by the witch who runs a magical Beauty Parlor, what will Jennifer do to save his life?

Jennifer Murdley's Toad is a marvelous addition to Bruce Coville’s series, each of which can be read and enjoyed even if you haven’t read any of the other books in the series. Each has a lesson to learn, as well - the one in this book is, of course, that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, and that when society presents unrealistic ideals of beauty as perfection, it can cause a lot of sadness and unhappiness. People can’t all look the same and be like Barbie dolls; what’s inside is more important. Boys and girls alike will find this book to be entertaining and enjoyable.

Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

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  Douglas R. Cobb/2007 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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