Children - Fantasy/Sci-Fi
72 Pages
Reviewed on 03/09/2022
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Author Biography

An expert in the art of daydreaming and counting clouds, Melanie J. Vogel lives in the small town of Cumberland, Maryland and is a momma to one grown daughter.
Happily married, she’s a poodle lover, master flower gardener and a casual unicorn spotter.
She has six published children’s picture books and one newly released children’s chapter book, Elsewhereville.
Join Melanie on Facebook at @melaniejvogel.author and on her website at melaniejvogel.com.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Shrabastee Chakraborty for Readers' Favorite

An unusual name, stained and hand-me-down clothes, and a penchant for flowers and insects are what make Myrtle Hitchabocker different from other students of Parkside Intermediate. She fails to fit in, as the school bullies frequently remind her, subjecting her to cruel pranks to boot. Myrtle wishes she could blend into the ordinary student population, until the day she magically appears at Elsewhereville, a place unlike any she has ever seen. Here, being different is the norm; “fitting out” is considered more important than “fitting in.” Can the eccentric inhabitants and the bizarre rituals of the place make her appreciate and embrace her uniqueness? To find out, read Elsewhereville, written by Melanie J. Vogel and illustrated by Carry Lancaster.

Melanie J. Vogel chose a premise that is all too relevant for school-going children worldwide. Schoolground bullying, in the form of verbal and physical abuse, often leaves lifelong scars in the child’s psyche. Elsewhereville conveyed a powerful message that it is okay to be different from others. I loved the concept of an outlandish world where everything is topsy-turvy. Myrtle's escapades were reminiscent of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. The gossiping conifers, the rhinoceros-driven carriage, and the jealous cloud cousins created a magical atmosphere. I laughed out loud at the idea of celebrating every day as a Saturday, because who wouldn’t love the perpetual prospect of having a holiday the next day? Geared towards children aged 5-12 years, Elsewhereville is an engaging read with a fun-filled storyline that I would heartily recommend.

Patricia Reding

With an opening chapter title that is sure to catch the attention of any middle-grade reader, Melanie J. Vogel offers in Elsewhereville a fantasy adventure complete with an illustration of one of life’s most valuable lessons "brought to life” through the eyes and experiences of Myrtle Hitchabocker, otherwise known as “Freakshow” to some of her classmates. You see, Myrtle isn’t like the other fifth-grade students. She wears strange clothes, thinks on things her peers ignore, “like spontaneous combustion or the life cycles of certain types of bacteria,” and of all things, she talks to bugs! So when the twin sister bullies, Sierra and Sebrina, harass Myrtle, she slumps to the ground in tears, mumbling “Why can’t I fit in?” In short order, she opens her eyes to find blue grass and a green sky—(yes, you read that correctly, blue grass and a green sky!), and to someone asking her “What is ‘fit in’?” That someone is a tiny rabbit-sized girl with wheels as feet, who asserts that it would be boring to “fit in” if doing so meant that a person would be like everyone else. Moments later, the rabbit-girl rolls away, leaving Myrtle to begin her adventure in Elsewhereville, where in addition to discovering such oddities as pickle trees, Myrtle meets one strange person after another, discovering along the way that “fitting out” is way more fun than “fitting in.”

It seems to be the case that every person must learn certain life lessons. For middle-graders, at the very time they want to “fit in,” they also want to be different in some way, to stand out, and to be memorable. Of course, how one differs from others is not always appreciated by that person, or valued by that person’s peers. In Myrtle’s case, she is sure to discover as she ages that her fascination with the strange things that she likes to think about will set her apart in extraordinary and meaningful ways. But as a fifth-grader, the best that could happen to Myrtle is that she grasps the truth that being different is not a bad thing and, indeed, that it may be a good thing. In Elsewhereville, Myrtle discovers that each and every person is different from each and every other person and that those differences make for an interesting world. The folks in Elsewhereville may differ from one another in ways that Myrtle has never seen among her classmates at Parkside Intermediate, but Melanie J. Vogel’s story, which provides a fantasy-like and exaggerated variety of people, makes the truth all that much easier for any middle-school child to recognize. As a consequence, they may find, as does Myrtle upon returning home, the importance of accepting others who may cross their paths.

Jamie Michele

Elsewhereville by Melanie J. Vogel is a children's chapter fantasy tale that centers around its young female protagonist, Myrtle Hitchabocker. Myrtle is the victim of relentless taunting and bullying by other children at her school, Parkside Intermediate. Poverty appears to be Myrtle's greatest offense in the eyes of her classmates, who make fun of her hand-me-down clothes with abuse that is both physical and verbal. As Myrtle sits alone, having just been through a particularly cruel incident of bullying that involved snuffing out a small creature, she finds herself transported to Elsewhereville. While there, she meets an entire parade of creatures who show her that embracing one's quirks, in whatever form they happen to take, does not make anyone a freak. Myrtle's re-entry to the spot where she disappeared marks a return where the real and fantasy worlds come full circle.

Melanie J. Vogel flexes her creative muscles, bringing Elsewhereville to life in a short but very adventurous little book. The diverse cast of anthropomorphic characters and their interactions with Myrtle are somewhat reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, albeit with Vogel writing in a far simpler narrative style and substance. There is even a scene where Myrtle is described as walking on her roots by an observant perennial similar to the scene of Alice in The Garden of Live Flowers. Throughout Vogel's story, I felt that her prose was strongest when she showcased characters with a melodic way of speaking. My personal favorite reads, “We all do different things. It’s what makes
us unique. Too bad that they call you a weirdo and freak.” The last line reflects the greatest torment that bullies such as the twin Simpkins sisters in the real world levy against Myrtle, whereby at the end of the book her character arc is complete and the moral is told. I think this is a good entry for young readers into fantastical worlds that will likely be well enjoyed.

Marie-Hélène Fasquel

Elsewhereville by Melanie J. Vogel is a very interesting children’s book that could very well become the first fantasy novella read by younger readers from 8 to 10 years old, I believe. It is short, to the point, written from the point of view of the main character, a little girl who is different from all the fifth-graders she knows and who is constantly bullied. Elsewhereville by Melanie J. Vogel is the perfect novel for children who want to read a good story. This is a well-written text allowing them to understand the consequences of bullying as the story of Myrtle Hitchabocker unfolds at her school (the awful bug story, for instance) and how she cannot deal with bullying and not fitting in. The reader then follows her adventures in Elsewhere Land, the place where everyone is different, nice, welcoming, and non-judgmental.

I loved this story for its numerous messages, its style, its picture of difference and everything difference can bring to us. I always tell my students that their differences are their talents and that it is exactly what makes them interesting - it would be so boring if we were all alike and perfect! In short, I highly recommend this much-needed book which will be treasured by parents, teachers, and most importantly, kids. It will indeed show them the reality behind bullying, the nastiness and stupidity of it, and how it can ruin someone’s life. Unfortunately, bullying online or in schools is so widespread, even common. A fabulous life lesson for all ages!

Jon Michael Miller

In Melanie J. Vogel’s Elsewhereville, we meet Myrtle Hitchabocker, a fifth-grade girl who wears stained hand-me-down clothes and who is mocked and bullied by her classmates. At recess, as Myrtle talks to a caterpillar, a pair of malicious twins taunt her as “Weirdo” and “Freak.” They’re at Parkside Intermediate School, and after the intense verbal attack, Myrtle mentally slips out of the schoolyard into another universe. Her escape echoes Alice’s in Lewis Carrol’s world-renowned story, and of course, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I was astounded by the creativity of Vogel’s imagination as she describes this new world with its green sky, blue grass, and an array of phantasmagorical creatures—yodeling catfish, pickle trees, conferring conifers, rhinos, attacking clouds, and generally a cacophony of uniqueness. Everything here must be different from what is “normal.” It’s not long before Myrtle fits right in and loves this place where, after a series of adventures, she is asked to lead the “Everyday Parade,” a daily celebration of the unexpected. Marching in step is not allowed. Here “fitting out” is required rather than fitting in. “It’s okay to be you,” the mayor tells Myrtle, “because that’s what you do.”

Poor Myrtle’s plight reminded me how unempathetic and aggressively cruel kids can be. It took me back to my own fifth grade when we all harassed a girl named Faye who wore tattered clothes to school. None of us would associate with her. Elsewhereville took me back there. Myrtle Hitchabocker’s nonconformities also include hand-me-down clothes. And I doubt poor Faye had the imaginative escape possessed by Myrtle, a place where she didn’t have to fit in but where being different was a virtue. Besides the simple joy of whimsy and inventiveness, Ms. Vogel’s book includes illustrations and vocabulary building, such words as kiosk, holographic, robotic, tunic, grimace, concur, tendril, and eccentric, to name a few. Of course, a world in which every norm is turned upside-down and inside out would be a horror, but the idea of having our idiosyncrasies accepted and of us being ourselves without judgment is appealing. Maybe when I was in fifth grade among my classmates teasing Faye, we could all have read Elsewhereville and changed our ways. Melanie J. Vogel’s work is a step in that much-needed direction.