reviewed by Chris Richards.
The Magical Bookshop was originally published in Germany last year as Der zauberhafte Wunschbuchladen. The translation is by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and will be released next month, in July 2020. Both editions have beautifully charming and sympathetic illustrations by Florentine Prechtel. Clara Jacobsen is a quiet girl who seeks solace and comfort in her local bookshop, run by the magical Mrs Owl. The shop is inhabited by Gustaf the rhyming cat and Mr King the enchanted, possibly clairvoyant mirror whom we meet talking and bickering, but can only to be heard by Clara and Mrs Owl.
The story begins on the day Clara must painfully and reluctantly wave goodbye to her best friend, Lottie who is moving away. It’s the end of the summer holidays and Clara faces the prospect of starting back at school without her best friend. While she is making new friends, coping with her new teacher, and finding the confidence to stand up to old foes, Mrs Owl has her own conflict to resolve. Of course, they help each other and come to terms with all that confronts them, and each find a satisfactory outcome. They all, well all the goodies anyway, live happily thereafter.
The story is sweet but not sugary, flows with unwavering compassion and repeatedly signals the importance of communication, introspection, and kindness as keys to a life contented. This is not a hard-hitting allegory or morality tale; emotions are acknowledged broadly and from the context of Clara’s loved and secure perspective. Lottie must move away from her hometown (and all she knows) with her mother because her father has fallen in love with someone else. This is a feature, not a theme and is never examined closely.
Consequences aren’t really touched upon in an authentic way, as a parent this was vaguely irritating but in the context of the book it makes for good storytelling. The world built in these pages has far reaching potential; it could accommodate many new tales if this were to become a series, as many children’s books do. I really hope it does!
Less than 180 pages long, made up of 10 chapters, it is perfectly formed for confident early readers and late bloomers alike. Magic does feature but in a small way to add colour; it does not eclipse the kind and affectionate friendships – old, new, conventional, and not – that take centre stage. The story is wholly relatable and while heartfelt and a little tear jerking, the tone remains light, hopeful, amusing, and accessible. This would make a delightful gift to any primary age or young teen seeking a new title to get lost in. I think I will daydream of escaping to Mrs Owl’s bookshop in my duller moments this summer, I hope to see you there.
A Rock the Boat Book of Oneworld Publications, to be released next month and will be available to buy from good bookshops including Southampton’s radical independent bookshop October Books octoberbooks.org