May/June 2023 Kids Indie Next List
“A remarkable tale set during the height of the pandemic. Clay explores the mysteries the woods have to offer, and soon boring days are filled with magic. A heartfelt, fast-paced adventure novel with fantastic illustrations by Junyi Wu.”
— Jen Steele, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
From the singular imagination of National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson comes a magical adventure about a boy and his dog—or a dog and her boy—and a forest of wonders hidden in plain sight.
Clay has had his fill of home life. A global plague has brought the world to a screeching halt, and with little to look forward to but a summer of video-calling friends, vying with annoying sisters for the family computer, and tuning out his parents’ financial worries, he’s only too happy to retreat to the woods. From the moment the elegant little dog with the ornate collar appears like an apparition among the trees, Clay sees something uncanny in her. With this mysterious Elphinore as guide, he’ll glimpse ancient secrets folded all but invisibly into the forest. Each day the dog leads Clay down paths he never knew existed, deeper into the unknown. But they aren’t alone in their surreal adventures. There are traps and terrors in the woods, too, and if Clay isn’t careful, he might stray off the path and lose his way forever. Graced with evocative black-and-white illustrations by Junyi Wu, Elf Dog and Owl Head is heartfelt and exhilarating, wry and poignant, seamlessly merging the fantastic and the familiar in a tale both timely and timeless.
About the Author
M. T. Anderson is the author of Feed, a National Book Award Finalist; the National Book Award winner The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party and Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves, which were both Michael L. Printz Honor Books; Symphony for the City of the Dead; Yvain: The Night of the Lion; Landscape with Invisible Hand; and many other books for children and young adults, including The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, cocreated with Eugene Yelchin, which was a National Book Award Finalist. M. T. Anderson lives near Boston, Massachusetts.
Junyi Wu is the illustrator of several books, including Two Bicycles in Beijing by Teresa Robeson; Beatrix Potter, Scientist by Lindsay H. Metcalf; and the Newbery Honor Book Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker. Junyi Wu is a graduate of ArtCenter College of Design and is based in Orange County, California.
Anderson’s work is invariably funny and piercingly intelligent and never quite what you expect. . . His new novel, “Elf Dog & Owl Head," is a kind of inverted Narnia story: Instead of children stumbling on a portal to a magical world, a dog scampers out of a magical world and into our own. . . . One of the quietly subversive facets of this gem of a novel is the way it moves past the easy dyad that frames our world as a mundane wasteland and the other one as a magical paradise. Anderson writes as eloquently about the joys of reality as he does about the Otherworld, and he makes the case, without straining, that mundanity has its own magic.
—The New York Times Book Review
It is not hyperbole to say that M. T. Anderson is one of the greatest living writers, in any genre and for every age group. It might even be an understatement.
—Adam Gidwitz, author of The Inquisitor’s Tale, a Newbery Honor Book
Delightful, amusing, and imaginative! Elf Dog and Owl Head proves that great stories are good medicine.
—Cynthia Leitich Smith, best-selling author of Sisters of the Neversea
Writing with his characteristic precision, Anderson melds the fantastic with the everyday to often riotous effect while also gently schooling Clay and readers in cross-cultural communication. It all comes to a thrilling climax on Midsummer’s Eve before a bittersweet, perfectly pitched denouement. Wu’s lovely, textured pencil drawings add eldritch warmth. . . . A hilarious, heartfelt triumph.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Revisiting the setting of his Norumbegan Quartet and layering the everyday with intriguing lands and creatures, Anderson expertly balances the anguish of pandemic-era isolation with the transporting joys of new friendships. Stylized b&w pencil art from Wu punctuate this wryly told fantasy.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A veritable plum pudding of energetic action and witty delights, but a -foundation of traditional folklore elements—standing stones, half-buried sleeping giants, fairy mischief, portals to the underworld, the Wild Hunt, and predatory wyrms—creates an underlying hint of genuine menace. . . . Balancing this chill is the devoted relationship between Clay and his dog companion, a theme that stands sturdily in the middle of the mayhem. Black-and-white full-page pencil illustrations contribute to both coziness and eeriness.
—The Horn Book
A charming, fantastical spin on the familiar kid/dog story, right down to their tragic separation being quickly followed by a heartwarming reunion. . . . There’s a lot for contemporary kids to relate to here: Clay’s loneliness, his sister’s anger at being forced to stay home, his parents’ constant worry, and the general unfairness of the entire situation. Holding all that chaotic emotion together and framing it with a well-developed fantasy world is an impressive feat, and Anderson, as usual, does it with aplomb.
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
The world of M.T. Anderson’s Elf Dog and Owl Head, hauntingly rendered in Junyi Wu’s bold crosshatched pencil illustrations, is complex, broken, hopeful and real, even in its most fantastical moments. . . upends familiar tropes with imagination, poignancy and just enough realism to allow the reader to see themselves in at least one character. . . . Like Clay, readers will want to continue to explore, even when they feel afraid to take the next step.
This playful romp pulls magic into the mundane and gives regular kids the chance to be heroes while Wu’s cross-hatched pencil illustrations dust the proceedings with further enchantment.
Themes of the unbreakable bonds of friendship, sibling relationships, the love between a boy and his dog, and the triumph of good over evil play out in this page-turner of a novel. Many chapters end on a cliff hanger, making this title an ideal read aloud. . . . Students will be drawn to this clever, magical novel.
—School Library Connection
A sparkling fantasy by the ever-inventive M.T. Anderson. . . . Much of the early humor in this very funny book comes from the disjunction between ordinary human things and the astonishing stuff of elsewhere. . . . Dramatic story turns, witty dialogue and zestful monochrome drawings by Junyi Wu combine to make a reading treat for 8- to 12-year-olds.
—The Wall Street Journal
Anderson’s tale is filled with mysterious creatures – grouchy buried giants, hungry wyrms, owl-headed people – but also with very real longings for friendship and connection that, to the isolated Clay and his sisters, feel at least as magical as the alternate worlds they stumble upon.
—The Virginian Pilot
Elf Dog and Owl Head is a heart-filled, magic-steeped tale of getting through a pandemic that's very like Covid in the early 2020s. The narrative by M.T. Anderson and black-and-white illustrations by Junyi Wu are evocative and thrilling, as an elf dog finds herself in our world and is taken in by a family whose members are really getting on one another's nerves in the quarantine. . . . this story has something to offer on many levels — a classic boy-and-his-dog adventure, a magical quest that bridges worlds, a lot of authentically snarky but deeply affectionate dialogue, characters that grab and warm your heart — and it's a joy for adult as well as kid readers to be there as it unfolds.
—Common Sense Media
The author creates an unusual, relatable world as the backdrop for a story of friendship and love. Young readers will connect with a boy’s close bond with his dog and they’ll empathize with his struggles to save it.
—Young Adult Books Central
Graced with evocative black-and-white illustrations by Junyi Wu, Elf Dog and Owl Head is heartfelt and exhilarating, wry and poignant, seamlessly merging the fantastic and the familiar in a tale both timely and timeless.
—Young Adult Books Central