Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review: The Magical Land of Noom by Johnny Gruelle

Any book with character names like “Jingles the Magician” and “Mr. Tiptoe” has just got to be good.

Here’s the first of – as I anticipate – many Obscure Literary Gem posts. American children’s author Johnny Gruelle is probably best known for his Raggedy Ann and Andy books, but this 1922 fantasy adventure certainly deserves some attention.

The Magical Land of Noom resembles, in many ways, L. Frank Baum’s acclaimed The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but not to fear: the former easily holds its own. Set some two decades after Oz, Noom has that irresistible 1920’s charm about it, and also has (in my opinion) a warmer feel – after all, Oz is the story of an unusually independent little girl who doesn’t begin to miss her home until she’s traveled in a strange land for quite some time. Noom centers on a young brother and sister who help and protect each other while sojourning in the Unknown, and who are soon joined in that adventure by their “Gran’ma” and “Grand’pa”.

Johnny and Janey are innocently playing in the yard one day, when the idea strikes them to build a Flying Machine. It’s constructed, soon enough, out of old boards and nails, and they name it Polly Ann. They climb inside to try it out – but hold on, Johnny and Janey! This Flying Machine can actually Fly!! Before they know what’s happening, they’ve zoomed into the sky and landed on the side of the Moon that we never see – hence, the name Noom.

Getting worried about their beloved gran’kids, Gran’ma and Grand’pa quickly construct a boat that (like Polly Ann) has unusual, enigmatic flying powers. They join Johnny and Janey in Noom, and the real adventure begins.

Noom seems like a lot of fun: giant gingerbread mushrooms, lemonade streams, and cute little Faun Boys abound…but there is also a swarm of bloodthirsty boxing gloves, a violent ink rainstorm, and the evil Old Jingles the Magician (who’s actually a lot more menacing than he sounds). By various turns of events, both of our protagonists’ flying vehicles become unavailable to them – but even if they had been able to fly straight home after a little visit to the land-on-the-other-side-of-the-Moon, they probably would have had to stick around anyway and help all of their unfortunate new friends solve their problems: there’s a Beautiful Girl in an enchanted Green Jar, the Queer Horse (whose head has become invisible), and the royal Dancing Master, Mr. Tiptoe, who is searching for his long-lost pupil (and who may be a little lost, himself).

Anyway – everything comes together in the end, just as it should and just as it always does. The Magical Land of Noom is satisfying and nostalgic, if a tad predictable. It’s like the comfort food of children’s fantasy stories. Plus, the illustrations are absolutely DELIGHTFUL – they are Gruelle’s own work (and in that way, at least, he certainly one-ups Baum!).

So whatcha waiting for? Find yourself a copy and get Noomed.

Thanks for reading!

Cited in this post: The Magical Land of Noom. Johnny Gruelle. Books of Wonder (New York): 1998. 158 pages. $22.00.


  1. that sounds very intriguing! i always love reading books about magical worlds and other lands! have you read 'wildwood dancing' by juliette mariliner? it's one of my FAVORITE books-a retelling about the 12 dancing princesses. also, 'the perilous gard' and 'the sherwood ring' by elizabeth marie pope are excellent. they're a great mix of fantasy and history! =)


  2. I'm going to have to look into that book, because I love The Twelve Dancing Princesses! And I actually started reading The Perilous Gard once, and loved it, but for some reason didn't get the chance to finish it...I'll have to take it up again :)