Polly, a sharp-tongued girl with very few friends, wishes to be popular. After the wish she can no longer say mean things or insult people, she croaks like a bullfrog instead. She becomes "popular", but only because the other schoolchildren are amused by her croaking. She realizes that if she was nicer, she would have more friends.
Rowena has a crush on a traveling salesman, Henry Piper, who she only gets to see for three days at a time. She wishes that he would "set down roots" and never leave the town again, causing him to turn into a tree. During his ordeal he reveals that he never liked her and only pretended to in order get her family to buy from him.
Adam is from a poor family who cannot afford running water, so they have to get it from a distant source. He wishes for the farm to have water, and soon after the farm is flooded, temporarily forcing his family off the land.
The town shopkeeper, "Stew Meat", narrates the story. The book ends with the prudent narrator using his wish to set things back to normal.
Despite the Reset Button Ending, each of the children learns something from their mistakes and are left better off.
The book received the Newbery Honor in 1984. The obvious moral of the story is to Be Careful What You Wish For.
This work provides examples of:
- Be Careful What You Wish For
- Body Horror: Henry
- The Everyman: Stew Meat
- Farm Boy: Adam
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Stew Meat, our narrator. His actual interactions with the characters are limited to receiving the wish cards along with the children in the beginning, and using his card at the end to fix everything.
- Great Gazoo: Thaddeus Blinn, who is implied not to be human
- Literal Genie: In the case of Rowena, whose wish ("I wish Henry Piper would set roots down in Coven Tree and never leave again!") causes her crush to turn into a tree.
- The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday
- Reset Button
- Smitten Teenage Girl: Rowena
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Polly and Rowena, respectively.
- Trickster Mentor: Thaddeus Blinn