All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel

Reviewed in The Boston Globe, November 19, 2000:

"In nearly every great children's book there is this matter of connection--and disconnection. That is the vulnerability of every child (and every adult, for that matter): to feel ourselves inextricably bound to that which is only mortal. And so, in novels for young readers, the plot often revolves around family or friends--a child's closest connection to the world; and a death--the ultimate disconnection. We see this theme again in three new novels for young readers.*

"All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel" tells the bittersweet story of a family in disarray--nearly disintegrated, in fact, living in an enormous, falling-apart mansion in the shadow of the father's death several years earlier. The narrator is a young girl named Fiona, (picture a younger, sweeter, funnier Holden Caulfield, or an older, wiser Ramona Quimby), a child of the late '50s and early '60s.

Fiona wants to be a dancer, but can't afford lessons. She practices every day in a large, bare room with a barre made from an old pipe, and remembers her father watching her, remembers that his mother (her grandmother) was a great ballerina, as she dances to old, scratchy records playing corny tunes like "Blue Moon." Her younger sister, Wallace, understandably hates her name and spends most of her days thinking of what to change it to. She eats jelly-and-cucumber sandwiches, follows Fiona everywhere, and is the quintessential eccentric in a house full of eccentrics. She is in love with Mr. Greenjeans, on "Captain Kangaroo."

Their best friend is a slightly older boy named Kip, who lives in a trailer with his father and plans to run a hotel business when he grows up. He is in love with the big old crumbling house, which he calls "The Wallace Hotel," and half in love with everything in the world--including all big hotel chains, Fiona, Wallace, the woods. The threesome--Fiona, Wallace, and Kip--remind one of the three friends who band together in the great children's novel "A Wrinkle in Time." These three have a similar mission: to rescue an absent father, but here it is his living memory that must be resurrected, and the vibrant life the family lived before his death.

"All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel" is exquisitely written, rich with humor, with vivid details, and with poetry. The novel is full of surprises and lightnesses. Author Phoebe Stone is not new to children's books: she has proven herself first as a fine illustrator, then as an illustrator/author of popular children's books like "When the Wind Bears Go Dancing" and "Go Away, Shelley Boo!" But in "All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel," she paints with words and steps into her own as a children's writer to reckon with.

The book has adventure, danger, mystery, a host of likable characters, and a wish that might come true (at least once in a blue moon). It's a book so full of joy and beauty that one wants to read and reread it, simply for the pleasure of revisiting this invented world. That, to me, is the sign of a true children's classic.

The New York Times Reviews All the Blue Moons...

*The other two books reviewed were "Homeless Bird", by Gloria Whelan, winner of this year's National Book Award, and "Many Stones", by Carolyn Coman a National Book Award Finalist.

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All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel
Copyright © 2000 by Phoebe Stone