The Stories Behind the Story :

MY BOOKS: The Seven Wonders Of Sassafras Springs
Sassafrass Springs
When Eben McAllister reads about the Seven Wonders of the World, his imagination races. He's itching to escape the sameness of the small farming community of Sassafras Springs, Missouri, and explore the world.

Then Pa challenges Eben to find Seven Wonders in his own neighborhood. EbenThe boy doubts Sassafras Springs has much to offer, but rises to the test when Pa promises him a coveted trip out west if he succeeds.

While his mission puzzles his friends and neighbors, Eben perseveres, with the help of his faithful dog, Sal. Though wary at first, the members of the community are eventually enlivened by his mission and folks eagerly share their seemingly simple possessions and their eerily true tales - and some downright whoppers, as well. A haunted table ... a half-mad rainmaker ... a flying outhouse ... a loom that weaves the truth ... an evil ship in a bottle: Eben is amazed at the range of wonders he finds on his own home turf.

"A gem of a novel ...." Pubisher's Weekly, starred review
"A fun, folksy outing ...." Kirkus Reviews, starred review

You'll find a nice YouTube introduction to the book here.

Written in a down-home narrative with flickers of magical realism, stories within stories, and plenty of humor to boot, Eben's journey of discovery opens his eyes to the marvels around him as he comes to realize that extraordinary things can happen in the most ordinary of places, even Sassafras Springs. With unforgettable illustrations by Matt Phelan.


NEW: See Natalia Paruz, aka the Saw Lady, tell the history of the musical saw, and play Amazing Grace the way Eben heard it in Sassafras Springs!

Master list for the 2009 Massachusetts Children's Book Award

Nominated for the California Young Reader Medal for 2007-2008, Florida's 2007-2008 Sunshine State Young Reader's Award, the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award, the Pennsylvania Keystone to Reading Award, New Hampshire's Great Stone Face award, Vermont's Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award, the Alabama Emphasis on Reading Award,, the Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award, the Kansas William Allen White Award, and the Utah Beehive Award.

A Kids' BookPlanet Main Selection

Featured in in the July, 2007 issue of Book Links magazine, published by the American Library Association, in an article by Teri MacDonald and Helen Foster James titled, Finding the Wonders of Our World.

Named an Honor Book by the 2006 Judy Lopez Memorial/Women's National Book Association Children's Book Awards.

Featured in BORDERS bookstores as an ORIGINAL VOICES selection and named one of their best books of the year

Featured as recommended reading in BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS, March, 2006

Now available in Paperback  large type and audiobook
Now in paperback, large type format and audiobook
Cover Japan

"In this fun, folksy outing set in 1923, 12-year old Eben McAllister has seven days to find seven wonders in Sassafras Springs, MO. Convinced that his ordinary berg has nothing on the Seven Wonders of the Word, Eben reluctantly accepts his father's challenge.... What follows is a weeklong odyssey where Eben asks people he's known his whole life if they have anything special .... It's not the objects themselves that are so extraordinary ... as much as his neighbors' magical stories that accompany them that will inspire everything from chuckles to chills. The matter-of-fact- first-person narrative is refreshing, as Eben is neither overly precocious nor terribly troubled - just a small-town boy with wanderlust who learns than an explorer doesn't have to travel too far afield to have an adventure, but that leaving town still sounds awfully good."
  Kirkus Reviews, starred review ("A star is assigned to books of unusual merit, determined by the editors of Kirkus Reviews.")

"How do you keep them down on the farm after they've read about the Seven Wonders of the World? That's one of the heart-tugging questions gently raised in Birney's tender and captivating gem of a novel ...Eben's search turns up the sparkle to be found in everyday life when one takes the time to look—and even listen—for it. Through a series of neighbors' and his own family's colorful accounts, Eben finds a bit of surprising magic right under his nose, and begins to view the people around him differently, too. Birney's engaging, memorable cast and homespun phrasing convey a comfortable, porch-sitting tone that emphasizes the power of story. Phelan makes his children's book debut with the accompanying sweet, rustic pencil drawings that bring Eben's journey into clearer view...."
  Publishers Weekly (Starred reviews indicate books of outstanding quality).

"A literary folk story blending down-home narrative and characters with a sprinkling of magical realism. It is a tale of transformation, of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, of the wonderful things that can happen anywhere to anyone.... Perfect for reading-aloud."
  School Library Journal

"Gentle illustrations and down-home dialect help make this a book to treasure and reread. Here is a story that will inspire you to look for the wonders in your own town - and make you want to pass this special book along to the next reader."

"Home may be humble, but as anyone who has deep-cleaned closets can testify, it's full of unpredictable surprises.... Wonder after wonder, [Eben] finds the extraordinary in his ordinary world. Author Birney conjures just enough fancy in the phenomena Eben discovers to nudge readers into pondering what rarities lie in their own backyards."
  Denver Post

"...the magical realism of the episodic wonders - an outhouse flying in a cyclone, a musical saw that fends off crop-eating locusts - and Eben's empathetic father and aunt provide grist for a solid read-aloud."

"...The real wonder is the love and kinship that permeates Birney's novel. While Eben can't wait to see the world beyond, I'll wager some readers will want a ticket straight to Sassafras Springs."
  Contra Costa Times

Meet some of the extraordinary residents of Sassafras Springs, Missouri:
Eben McAllister - the boy whose yearning to see the world turns the tiny farming town of Sassafras Springs topsy-turvy

Pa - a quiet man who unexpectedly offers Eben the challenge - and opportunity - of a lifetime

Aunt Pretty - Pa's sister, who has raised Eben since his Ma died, and has a few surprises her nephew never dreamed of

Mrs. Pritchard - the strict Sunday School teacher with an eerie secret

Cully Pone - the "handyman" whose ramshackle house is held up by a bookcase with an incredible past involving a rainmaker with revenge on his mind

Jeb - Eben's best friend, who is more interested in baseball than in exploring the world

Calvin Smiley - who plays a highly unusual instrument with an astonishing past

Eulie Rowan - a humble woman with an amazing story about a haunted graveyard

Junior Watkins - a friend of Eben's who knows the meaning of "making a big stink"

Coogie Jackson - an unusual kid with a story that's pretty hard to swallow, but just might be true

Rae Ellen Hubbell - She may be a "pest" in Eben's eyes ... but her uncle's ship in a bottle has a dark and sinister past

Mayor Peevey - Who would think that the most respected man in town would have such a checkered past?

"Uncle Alf" Dee - whose woodcarvings not only chronicle the past of Sassafras Springs but perhaps the future of the town - and Eben - as well!

Their stories unravel in surprising ways as Eben and his faithful dog, Sal, travel the length and breadth of Yellow Dog Road to discover THE SEVEN WONDERS OF SASSAFRAS SPRINGS.