Charlotte (8 years old) and Ben (5 years old) along with their mother Alison have returned to the little park known as Hare Hill after an absence of about two years. The kids’ dad, Michael, passed away back then and now they have returned to one of his favorite places in order to spread his ashes. The three of them reminisce about the games the four of them use to play in this park and eventually take a nap. The kids awake to a magical park in which they have to solve a variety of puzzles.
This is a touching children’s tale that has some weight to it. Alison misses her husband and she fears her two kids, who were once the best of friends, are drifting apart. She hopes this visit to Hare Hill, where once Michael devised games and puzzles for his kids to solve as they ran around to all 13 wooden hares, will bring the kids closer together. This story has the gravity of talking to young children about the death of a significant loved one and that is carried out with poise without lingering overmuch on it.
Then the magic comes in. After visiting all 13 hares and a picnic, the three drift off into a nap. The kids awake to night in the park without their mom. They quickly surmise that they must solve various puzzles in order to figure out how they got here and how to get back. The puzzles test them in many ways, sometimes together and sometimes apart. There’s a numbers puzzle, a few riddles, facing some fears, and even a children’s song. The Guardian of Hare Hill, a stone face that periodically comes to life and provides them a clue, is an enigmatic character who seems to take joy in his little riddles. Throughout this part of the book, I never felt the kids were in any danger so it was just pure fun to see them work together. The reward at the end of the game was quite worthy.
My only criticism is that some parts are a little drawn out. I felt the scenes would have had a bit more punch or poignancy if they had been trimmed up a bit. When I read a kids’ story, I expect things to move along at a little faster clip. Still, that is a small criticism. I think this book would be a good way to start a dialogue with young children who have lost a parent.