October 28, 2020

The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp

Written by Jonathan Auxier
Illustrated by Olga Demidova
Puffin Canada
96 pp.
Ages 6-9
October 2020
Eight-year-old Auggie lives on an island at the top of the world and has a very important job: he tends to the one-of-a-kind creatures that reside in the Fabled Stables. There's the Hippopotomouse, the Gargantula, the Long-Beaked Curmudgeon, the Yawning Abyss, and his friend Fen, a shape-shifting Stick-in-the-Mud, among others.
From Willa the Wisp by Jonathan Auxier, illus. by Olga Demidova
When the stable shakes with a "Boom" and a new stall labelled "Wisp" appears, Fen encourages Auggie to enter the moonlit swamp that stretches out into the stall and help the creature which must be in trouble. Borrowing some thread from the Gargantula's web to help him find his way back, Auggie cautiously enters the dark swamp.
Here Auggie discovers three hunters and their hounds pursuing a giggling creature with long ears, big eyes and a body that changes like the mist. She tells Auggie that she was just born that night and the people and their puppies were just playing tag with her. Sadly, she is wrong, and the hunters capture both Willa and Auggie and demand she tell them where her treasure is.
From Willa the Wisp by Jonathan Auxier, illus. by Olga Demidova

Clever Auggie is able to save Willa, though not free her from the fraught iron collar the nasty hunters placed around her neck, and returns with her to the Fabled Stables where he learns from Miss Bundt (there's also a Professor Cake who owns the island) more about the hunters and the dark group to which they belong.
From Willa the Wisp by Jonathan Auxier, illus. by Olga Demidova

Though Jonathan Auxier is better known for his weightier tomes like The Night Gardener and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster, I think he's found a new niche to which his writing will make a valuable contribution. For readers just on the younger side of middle grade, Willa the Wisp and undoubtedly the series The Fabled Stables will bridge their reading from the picture book genre into more challenging chapter books with its age-appropriate vocabulary and plentiful illustrations from Olga Demidova on every page. But it's really the telling of the story and its illustrated format that makes it such a charm to read. Jonathan Auxier has made Auggie a normal kid in a very unusual job who shows extraordinary compassion while just wanting to be a boy with friends his own age. Beyond the menagerie of remarkable animals and the magic of Auggie's world–you'll like the hanging of a ladder to the moon–Jonathan Auxier has given us a story of a boy and made us feel for him and his noteworthy endeavours.

Willa the Wisp is only the first in the new The Fabled Stables series but its ending leaves us with many questions. Who is Professor Cake and how did he know that Miss Bundt needed to make an extraordinarily long ladder? Who are the Rooks? Are more one-of-a-kind creatures in danger from them? Are the Fabled Stables in danger? Will Auggie ever find a friend his age? With the second book in the series, Trouble with Tattle-Tails, slated for release in May 2021, we may get some answers and definitely more fantastical adventure.

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