review of middle-grade book The End of the Beginning by Avi

The End of the Beginning: Being the Adventures of a Small Snail (and an Even Smaller Ant)
by Avi, illustrated by Tricia Tusa

Harcourt (April 2008) (paperback edition)

ISBN-10: 0152055320, ISBN-13: 9780152055325

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“I’ve been living here,” said the ant, “for a whole year, and you have never once said hello.”

“I am sorry,” replied Avon. “But there was never anyone around to introduce us.”

“I kept telling myself you were just being polite,” said the ant. “And I’m glad to learn I was right. Still, if you have ever noticed, while it’s awkward to say hello without introductions, one can always say good-bye.”

The End of the Beginning by Avi, p. 18.

I love humor when it tickles my funny bone. The End of the Beginning really appealed to me, and I think it will appeal both to young children for the incredible silliness and young child’s sense of humor, as well as to adults for the bits of deep wisdom and truisms that are woven throughout the story.

Avon, a snail who loves to read, gets really sad because he’s never had an adventure like all the characters he’s read about in books. So he decides to find himself an adventure, and he, along with Edward, an ant who’s lived in his house for a year but who he’s never spoken to, set out to find adventures, traveling slowly at Avon’s snail pace. They come to the end of a branch, meet up with a mouse they decide is a dragon in disguise, teach a cricket to sing a different song, and race another snail. They return home (which they think is an enchanted castle) happy, and each a friend richer.

I love the way the story opens, with Avon the snail reading books and enjoying them; this is a validation of readers and book lovers. From there, Avi moves us into tongue-in-cheek humor and playful silliness with sense turned on its head, and, woven throughout it all, bits of wisdom and truth. There are truths that children will easily pick up on, and truths and humor that will resonate more with older readers and adults. The silliness is innocent, young, and appears on most pages, making the book light and easy to read.

Some of the silliness stems from advice that starts out making sense and then gets convoluted but still feels like it almost makes sense: “If it’s going to be tomorrow, it might as well be today. And if it is today, it could have been yesterday. And if it was yesterday, then you’re over and done with it…” Other silliness comes from turning sense upside down and inside out: “‘Well,’ said the ant, ‘if i don’t have a right answer, at least I’ll have a wrong one.’ ‘As long as it’s an answer,’ said Avon, ‘I can use it….’

The bits of wisdom feel profound, and are all the more powerful because of their simplicity–you can see something from a different perspective than others, but you may still be singing the same song, thus can still relate; if you run about crazily trying to get something done, it will probably take you as long as it would if you do something steadily and slowly; you can change the way a place feels or looks by the way you look at it, seeing the world with your heart, not your eyes.

Avi keeps up the humor and tone throughout the entire book, sometimes more successfully than others. Fittingly, there are references to ends and beginnings sprinkled throughout the story. The chapters feel almost self contained; I think they would work well being read aloud each night. At times there were chapters that didn’t move the story forward, and that seemed to have no purpose; I found those chapters almost irritating. They also seemed to lack the bits of wisdom that were sprinkled throughout the rest of the chapters. Though the humor was delicious, at times it became wearing, especially when it felt like there was no point to the chapter; it gave that chapter an empty feeling, but those chapters were the minority. Most of the humor feels fresh and alive, but I found myself disappointed when they Avon and Edward arrive home and don’t recognize their own home, but assume it’s an enchanted home, since I’ve seen a very similar vein in a few children’s books (the titles are alluding me right now). Still, overall, the book was a delight to read. Sweet, funny line drawings accompany the text, punctuating important scenes and making the characters come more alive.

This is a light, funny story with great truths. The paperback edition is a nice pocket-sized book, easy to hold. The double-spaced lines make it easy and quick to read. The End of the Beginning is a good-hearted book. Recommended.

The end of the beginning comes out in paperback in April 2008, and the sequel, A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End: The Right Way to Write Writing also comes out in April in hardcover.

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About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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