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From The Asian Reporter, V15, #11 (March 15, 2005), page 15.
Knock on Wood: Poems About Superstitions
By Janet S. Wong
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
McElderry Books, 2003
Hardcover, 36 pages, $17.95
By Josephine Bridges
Friday the 13th
thirteen witches are meeting in the Office of Bad Luck ó
on the thirteenth floor at 13 Thirteenth Street, of course.
Janet Wongís witches laugh at the boy who bites his tongue, a new car smashed by a tree, a girl upchucking on the bus, but they get their comeuppance:
when the door slams
and the lights go out ó
and thirteen unlucky witches have lost
There are sixteen more superstitions explored in this collection. Many of them are familiar, but Janet Wong usually finds something new to pass along. For example, most readers are aware that black cats and ladders tend to be unlucky, but how many know that there are rituals to temper the misfortune they impart? Other superstitions arenít so well known, including how roosters forecast rain and an elaborate procedure for finding your way by throwing keys over your left shoulder.
Readers can look for more information on their favorite magical beliefs in "About the Superstitions." Apparently the clover is considered lucky because of "a legend saying that Eve stole a handful of clover from Paradise." The author also points out here that superstitions may change from culture to culture. "Some people think an umbrella can be opened indoors as long as it is not held over your head. According to a Chinese superstition, however, ghosts live inside umbrellas, so they should never be opened indoors."
Julie Paschkisís illustrations are wonderfully detailed and filled with children from many cultures, as well as vampires, grannies, and mermaids. The richness of her colors adds to the beauty of the authorís words.
Janet Wong offers a sane and balanced perspective on her topic in Knock on Wood, encouraging young readers to create their own relationships with superstitions. "Who knows why we believe what we do?" she asks in her authorís note. "Maybe, in times of uncertainty, we like to have rituals to follow, to make us feel secure. Maybe, in times like these, we should make up some new superstitions of our own."