Joplin, Wishing, by Diane Stanley

I sincerely enjoying reading kids books even though I'm an adult (otherwise I wouldn't).  But sometimes there are children's books that even though I like reading them now just fine, I really really want to be able to give to my young self, because I would have loved them back then.  Such a book is Joplin, Wishing, by Diane Stanley (Harper Collins, June 2017) which I would have adored back when I was eight or nine.  It would have hit the sweet spot of beautifully fantastical with hint of melancholy most excellently.

Elven-year-old Joplin's grandfather has died, and when the book begins, she and her mom are  returning to their home in New York, with boxes and boxes of his papers (he was a famous writer).  She's also bringing back a treasure she found--the broken pieces of a delftware platter that once showed a girl tending geese.  Thanks to a family friend, the pieces are reassembled, and the platter is hung on Joplin's wall.  She's going through a bad time at school; her once best friend has taken up with the It girls, and she's being tormented by classmates who've seen unflattering stories about her grandfather's eccentricities (distorted by the media). Looking at the sweet-faced painted girl on the platter, Joplin wishes that she could be her friend. 

Joplin's wish comes true, and the next day she finds Sophie in her building's garden.  Sophie was once a real girl in 17th century Holland, enchanted when she was eleven into the platter to serve its owner as a granter of wishes. For centuries, she's watched the world from her prison...except for one previous stint as a girl in the real world.  Now she is real again, and ready to be Joplin's friend (though she has no choice in the matter, because since Joplin now owns the platter, Sophie must grant all her wishes).  Sophie (with a bit of wishing help) is taken in by the upstairs neighbor, solving the practical problem of where she'll live, but a much bigger problem looms.

The alchemist who created the platter wants it back; he needs Sophie to grant him one last wish, and he is not a nice man at all.  And Sophie has a wish of her own--to go back to her own time and place. But only the alchemist can undo the magic.  Joplin and a new friend she made a school, a really cool and smart boy named Barrett (a bibliophilic friendship--they are thrown together by the school librarian, and then Joplin lends him her set of Sherlock Holmes), are determined to figure out how to help Sophie, and fortunately they have adults who are willing to accept the impossible circumstances and provide help. (I can't remember any other books where a helpful family friend who's a lawyer steps in to write a magical contract!)

Sophie's story is entwined with Joplin's mother's past, and not only does Sophie bring friendship to Joplin's life, she brings healing and closure to her mother (which also bring a nice emotional depth and poignancy to the story).  And Joplin is able to appreciate her brief time with Sophie as a precious gift, without trying to use the magic of her wishing power for selfish reasons.  It's all very satisfying, and fans of 17th century Dutch art will be particularly charmed by the ending.

Joplin's contemporary friendships are also sensitively explored.  She is a big enough person to allow for the possibility of mending fences with her old best friend, which is nice, but I particularly like her attitude to become friends with a boy.  To paraphrase, she says that eleven is too young to have a boyfriend, but that it's nice to have a boy as a friend  that she might want as a boyfriend later, which seems to me a beautifully appropriate attitude.

So it was a lovely, magical, positive story!  Like I said, 8 or 9 year old me would have loved it, but I was a tremendously precocious reader, so kids a bit older might like it too!  5th grade, I think, is the sweet spot.

For what it's worth, Kirkus and I are in agreement on this one; here's their starred review.

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