4 out of 4 stars
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The Tale of Meadow Grove is a rhyming children’s book by Lynn D. Wheeler, but it has an underlying theme of oppressive danger. Five-year-old twin sisters Chloe and Emma live in an eerie place called Meadow Grove. Due to their dysfunctional home life, they are in desperate search of a coping mechanism that will provide them a place of emotional refuge. Each night, their stuffed animals transform into friendly, magical creatures that offer them guidance and protection, so they use imaginary escapism to find the strength they need to face each subsequent day.
They hide from a villainous character named Mr. Jingles, who lurks around in the darkest hours before dawn, turning day into night by devouring the sun. Legends warn children that he will come to get them if they are found home alone, and the storyline would suggest that this character either represents their father or their stepfather. His angry moods are accompanied by a foul odor, which I assume is probably alcohol, but the character is shown only as a looming black shadow that resembles a towering monster. He carries with him a jangling set of keys and glares at their sleeping mother before often entering the girls’ bedroom “out of instinct.”
The illustrations depict starlit skies, ravens, spiders, cobwebs, and skeleton keys, and the text is typed in a playful font. A leopard, tiger, elephant, lion, wolf, monkey, ostrich, dolphin, and polar bear encourage the girls to find their fearlessness, and the twins find warmth in the chivalrous embrace of a boa constrictor. I appreciate that all the animals eventually encourage the girls to seek outside help, urging them to find a precious trust outside their fragile family bond.
The story is 43 pages long, and I only encountered a small handful of errors while reading. These errors are the only aspects of the book I disliked. For every page of text, there is a corresponding full-page illustration, so this tale can easily be read in one sitting, but there are some words present that would likely be too challenging for kids under the age of 8. Phrases like “keep vigil” and “make haste” occur amidst terms like “aftermath,” “plight,” and “threshold,” so this story might only be easily comprehended by certain reading groups.
Throughout this story, the girls’ feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, and helpless vulnerability slowly become courage, strength, bravery, and fearless perseverance. The animals offer them unconditional love, soft-spoken reassurances, and a kind-hearted tenderness that they are missing from their real lives. I feel this book would be appropriate for children going through similarly difficult times. It shows young readers that creative imaginations often give kids the power to overcome challenging circumstances, but I’m just not sure that I would readily recommend this one to kids who have been sheltered from such abuse and domestic trauma. Far too many unnecessary questions would potentially be raised, but some readers might not see the villain as more than just an imaginary monster, so it’s hard to say what effect it might truly have on an innocent and naïve audience. Unfortunately, some young children will live through exact circumstances like these, and some might even suffer molestation in their own homes, so I commend authors who are willing to shine a light on such issues.
In this dysfunctional household, secrets and silence become survival strategies. These children associate safety with the ever-faithful brightness of dawn. Welcome mats and home-sweet-home decorations disguise the unspeakable evils that exist behind closed doors, and as the girls head off to school, their classroom daydreams blend with visions of their nightly escapes. With sorrow, they realize their house is not a home, and they crave the freedom that their after-dark escapades bring. Once Mr. Jingles appears, implied horrors repeatedly unfold, but these girls try their best to persevere in the face of evil. I award this book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. Wheeler describes this book as “a poetic cautionary tale but also one of empowerment, bravery, and survival in response to adversity,” and I think that is a very apt description of what this complex title provides.
The Tale of Meadow Grove
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