Whenever new work appears from Margaret Atwood, we wonder what award it will win. Wandering Wenda, her newest book for children, wanders the well-worn pathway winding through her other tales for wee ones, which are weighted with wads of alliterative words.
Had enough? Right. That’s the thing about alliteration – a little goes a long way, even when Atwood is the author.
Wenda is a young waif whose parents disappeared in a weird whirlwind. Setting off to find them, she meets a woodchuck named Wesley and runs afoul of Widow Wallop, who whisks them both to her washery. There, along with three other children (Wilkinson, Wu, and Wanapitai) whose parents disappeared under similar circumstances, they are forced to wash whites until whiter than white from dawn until night.
But Wesley the woodchuck saves the day by digging under the washery wall. Free at last, the children must face wild wolves in the nearby woods, which they again manage with Wesley’s assistance. The widow turns out to be the wizard who created the whirlwind in the first place, and is prevailed upon to return the missing parents. Needless to say, all ends well.
Atwood finds some wonderful ways to use the “w” sound. Take the opening line: “Wenda was a willowy child with wispy hair and wistful eyes.” It’s a fine beginning, sparky and full of promise. Dušan Petricic’s portrait of the heroine does not quite match the description, but no matter; his watercolours are lovely and add a fine sense of whimsy to the book.
Despite its occasional delights, however, the alliteration at times feels like a dead weight that drags down both the characters and the plot. (Even Atwood herself seems to get a bit confused – Wenda is captured by Widow Wallop in a basket, but later we are told she emerges from a sack.) As we wander from wieners to woodchucks to washing, then on to wolves, wands, and waffles for all, one gets the impression it is the dictionary, and not the author, that is directing our course.