The Spelling Bee of Oz, by Robin Hess – The follow-up to Toto and the Cats of Oz has two new visitors to the fairyland. Elizabeth Warren from California, or Zeebee for short, is captured by the Nome King Korph, who has taken the throne from Kaliko. It turns out she’s the spitting image of Dorothy, and he wants to use her in a plot to conquer Oz. Meanwhile, Amal, a Somali orphan, has teamed up with the titular Bee. We also learn the Bee’s origin story, which is linked to the creation of the Hip-po-gy-raf, the Kalidahs, and the giant spider the Cowardly Lion killed. It’s nice to see an Outside World visitor who isn’t a white American for a change. Hess tends to give a lot of background, which works well for his small Oz communities. A few characters from the Russian Magic Land books appear, only altered to better fit a more Baumian Oz. And like many Oz authors, he tries to explain some of the more mysterious aspects of the land: where it’s located, how people and animals communicate, the language barrier, the contradictory origins for Ozma, how the calendar works, etc. His takes on these issues is interesting, but sometimes get in the way of the story. I usually take such explanations with a grain of salt, as pretty much every fan has their own theories, and they usually don’t impact the stories a whole lot. The book provides the date of 22 June 1493 O.Z. for Dorothy’s initial arrival in Oz, which would fall in the time when tornadoes are most prominent in Kansas. Joe Bongiorno’s Royal Timeline of Oz goes with November in order to better accommodate W.W. Denslow’s “Dorothy’s Christmas Tree.”
Dorothy and Old King Crow, by Dorothy Haas – In the mid-eighties, Random House published a few Oz books that were largely consistent with the original series, but intended for younger readers. This one is written on the lowest reading level of all, recommended for second or third graders. The story is very simple, concerning a crow who enchants the Scarecrow and will only let him go if Dorothy beats him in a spelling contest. She wins with help from a Spelling Bee, here pictured as ordinary insect-sized instead of the giant creature in Hess’s books. They might still be the same individual, but it’s an old joke. The only traditional Oz characters are the five from Wizard, although Ozma does merit a brief mention. Although nothing much happens, there’s no reason it couldn’t be part of the history of Oz. I did think there was some weird anti-crow prejudice on Dorothy’s part; one crow being evil doesn’t mean all of them are.
Dorothy and the Seven-Leaf Clover, by Dorothy Haas – This somewhat more substantial story by the same author has the big five encountering a golden boy who holds Toto hostage. It turns out that he’s under an enchantment by the Wicked Witch of the East, and the friends have to find a seven-leaf clover in order to break the spell. I liked the cow who helps them find the clover, characterized as a lackadaisical connoisseur of plants. There’s not much to it beyond that, but it’s a pretty fun little read.