Finding Dorothy

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 15 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

Juxtaposition of stories, of L. Frank and Maud Baum’s  marriage and of the making of The Wizard of Oz movie makes an interesting contrast in time periods and details of the beloved classic movie. What the reader discovers is the intended story as written and the version we have seen and remember. To a life-long fan of the movie, this is mesmerizing reading.
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This is a well-written and insightful story revealing the characters and relationship between L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and his wife Maud.  Starting with their humble beginnings, and ending with Maud trying to ensure that the making of the film in 1939 stays true to Frank’s vision. I found the book to be interesting and enlightening as it provided a glimpse into their lives and the creativity that led to his masterpiece book.
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One way I know I thoroughly enjoyed a book is that, when I finish, I can't stop digging for more information. That's exactly what happened when I finished "Finding Dorothy" by Elizabeth Letts. I needed to know more about the characters, about the production of "Wizard of Oz," about Matilda Gage. I was glad for the author's note and appreciated her recommendations for further reading. I can't stop thinking about the book. 

The story follows the wife of L. Frank Baum, author of "Wizard of Oz", through her early days growing up the daughter of a suffragette, then when she marries Baum and raises a family, and finally as an older woman as the "Wizard of Oz" movie is being produced. The story alternates between time but flows so beautifully. 

I loved how much time and research Letts put into building her dynamic characters. The descriptions were so well written that it was easy to visualize the story. I felt as though I was in the room with Maud, both at home with her in the 1880s and on set with her in the 1930s. It was well-written and incredibly enjoyable.
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Such an interesting read - historical fiction about the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the life of L. Frank Baum. I loved the entire story; how the beloved Oz series came to be written, who the character of Dorothy was based on, the fight for women's freedoms, alongside Maud's intention to be sure the movie stayed true to her husband's vision. It is a work of fiction based on historical events, and the author states which parts she took liberties with at the end. I found this to be an entirely delightful story. The vocabulary intrigued me, as well. The story is full of old-fashioned turn-of-the-century Victorian phrases which give the storyline an even more authentic feel. 

The story opens with Maud (Gage) Baum trying to speak with Louis B. Mayer about the casting of the role of Dorothy Gale in MGMs 1939 movie based on the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Maude is 77 and not afraid to voice her opinion; she promised Frank before his death in 1919 that she would keep Oz true to the story. It travels back and forth from 1939 as the movie is being made throughout Maud's life, beginning when she was just 9 years old. Maud's mother was a famous suffragist who marched alongside her dear friend Susan B. Anthony, and Maud was raised to believe that she could do anything she set her mind to. Her life and marriage to Frank was long and happy, but they did experience ups and downs in their lives. Frank's occupation did not always provide a stable income, but the family made due. 

Maud Gage was born to a comfortable existence in upstate New York, and she attended Cornell University just a few years after women were allowed to attend. As a native New Yorker myself, I loved reading about the places Frank, Maud, and their families lived; Fayetteville, Syracuse, Chittenango, Mattydale, Ithaca. It made the story hit a little closer to home, somehow.
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Some books get you from the first page and some books slowly grow on you over the course of the book. This one was a slow grower. But a slow growing book always leaves me thinking for days after I read it. This book is the story behind the Wizard of Oz but it is not exactly how you would picture it. I remember as a kid being very excited each year when the network would broadcast the movie. This was long before video streaming, dvds, or even VCRs. As much as I loved the movie, I knew very little of L. Frank Baum and nothing about his wife Maud. This book is a good mix about their lives and the birth of the Wizard of Oz. Elizabeth Letts does a great job moving through the years of their lives and hand picking the pieces that help you understand the true meaning behind the Wizard of Oz. I don't think I will every watch this movie with the same eyes again. Make sure to read the author's notes at the end of the book to get some closure on some of the other characters. Thank you Net Galley for an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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This was such an amazing book! I laughed, I cried, I was immersed in the world of Oz. Maud was a truly inspiring character and joining her on her journey with Frank was truly wonderful and magical.
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My 2019 year of reading is off to a wonderful start partly because of this wonderful book!  This is such an original story that I couldn’t wait to start reading and I was not disappointed. I worried that my love of The Wizard of Oz movie would influence how I liked the book but if anything it improved my experience because when Maud, our main character, is talking about the making of the movie and the scenes that were being filmed, I could remember each and every one of  them.

From the blurb you know that this novel is written from the point of view of Maud Gage Baum, wife of L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz. There are two time frames, one starting in the 1870’s when Maud and Frank are young, married, very poor and raising their family of four boys. The other time frame takes place during the taping of the movie around 1939.

Maud was the daughter of a Matilda Baum a leading voice for women’s rights, Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton were frequent visitors in their home.  Matilda wanted her daughter to be independent, well educated and have a life of her own continuing to carry out her mother’s work for women’s rights. When Maud was introduced to Frank by her college roommate they quickly fell in love. Matilda was so upset with Maud marrying a “theater man” (actor) that she never spoke to her again after their marriage.

Maud and Frank started their marriage living in Dakota starting various start up businesses that never seemed to take off. One, a fantastical sounding children’s toy store, was said to contain just about any toy that a child could wish for. The store did well for some time but when the town fell on hard times Frank was forced to sell the store and go to work as a salesman. Maud took in sewing to keep a home for the boys and food on the table. 

During this time she tried to help her sister Julia who had married a hard headed and perhaps abusive husband. She lived quite far away but they did visit occasionally and Maud was in love her with little niece, who is quite probably Frank’s inspiration for Dorothy, right down to the blue  gingham dress that Maud sewed for her. Throughout all of their hard times Frank always found ways to make things “magical” for his children with his wit and imaginative play interactions.

The second time line takes place during the filming of the movie where Maud tries to keep the leaders of MGM to keep true to her husband’s story. She befriends Judy Garland whom she quickly sees is being treated terribly. Her mother along with the director keep Judy on diet pills so that she won’t grow out of the part since she is reaching puberty. She is also encouraged to smoke cigarettes to tame her hunger and was even slapped in the face when she couldn’t stop laughing in a part of the filming. I already knew where this beginning addiction let the singer/actress and was ashamed that it was her mother who encouraged this behavior.

I did feel a connection to Maud, I liked her ability to always find “the silver lining” and make the most of what the family had to stay happy. Later I loved her strength and tenacity to try to help Judy through the tough times during filming. It was interesting learning so many things about the original Wizard of Oz. Frank never wanted anything to scare children in his books and there was no wicked witch in his story. Oz was supposed to be a wonderland that children could escape to when things were sad or difficult for them. Of note is the fact that the studio almost cut Over the Rainbow because they thought it was too long! There is much to discover in this book.

I encourage everyone to read this book and if by chance you have never watched the movie, please do so, it is a treasured movie icon. 

I received an ARC of this novel from the publishers through NetGalley. The book is set to publish February 12, 2019.


Will post review to Amazon upon publication.
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This book was beyond amazing!!  It's everything I thought it was going to be and more!!  Elizabeth did such an amazing job with her research and living The Wizard of Oz through her eyes was an incredible treat!!
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Thanks to Random House- Ballantine Publishing for granting my wish to read Elizabeth Lett’s historical fiction novel Finding Dorothy. This book is such delightful treat. I was a huge fun of Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz book series and The Wizard of Oz movie when I was growing up. The book transports us back in time not only giving us a glimpse of the author through his wife Maude but then a peak into the studio production as Maude tries to influence the movie to stay true to her deceased husband’s vision. Maud is a spunky character herself and her stubborn realistic will is a great counterpart to her husband’s fantastical creativity.  My favorite part is Lett’s interpretation of the creation of Dorothy being inspired by Auntie Em (Maude) and her relationship with her niece and the parallel development of elderly Maud’s relationship with Judy Garland (Dorothy). The historical fiction aspects are spot on as well. I feel like I can see history through the eyes of a young feminist in the U.S. through the end of 1800s and the beginning of the 20th century as well as a tantalizing glimpse into movie-making in Hollywood in the 1930s. This year is the 80th anniversary of the 1939 release of The Wizard of Oz and I was lucky to get to see a rebroadcast on the big screen at a local movie theater. I would recommend watching the movie before and after reading Finding Dorothy. I can’t recommend this book enough.
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Like many people before me, I loved The Wizard of Oz as a kid. I watched that movie a billion times, and even though it left me with a lasting fear of tornadoes, it also inspired so much imagination in me and was a significant part of my childhood. I went through a phase where I dressed as Dorothy for Halloween and wore red slippers around my house, and then a phase were I realized the Wicked Witch was even cooler as a character and I insisted that my face had to be painted green on Halloween and I needed a pointy hat and cloak. Also, my sister and I used to call those munchkin donut holes from Dunkin' Donuts "Dorothy Donuts" and I still, 15 years later, find myself calling them that in my head whenever I see them at a meeting or brought to class.

All that is to say, I'm pretty familiar with Oz, but I had never once, in all my years, thought about the man behind the curtain: L. Frank Baum. When this book popped up on Netgalley a few months ago and I saw that it was all about Maud Baum, Frank's wife, and that it focused on her life growing up, her marriage to Frank, and her relationship to Judy Garland during the filming of Oz, I knew I had to have it immediately. I LOVE historical fiction, and this book seemed right up my alley.

As it turned out, this book exceeded all expectations. Maud had an absolutely fascinating life and it was hard to put this book down because I was so curious to know more. From being raised by Matilda Gage, one of the leading suffragettes of the 19th century, to being one of the first female students at Cornell University, her youth just seemed so different from that of many other historical women I've read about from that time period. Maud seemed full of personality and spunk, and all of that shone through in Elizabeth Letts' descriptions of her. 

Her marriage to Frank was incredibly interesting to read about, too. They had their many ups and downs and struggled with money during the early years of their marriage, but it was so refreshing and completely warmed my heart to see how well the two worked together. I've read a lot of books about the wives of famous authors and am usually disappointed to read about the way many of these famous men abuse or manipulate or control the women in their lives (**I'm looking at you, Hemingway and Fitzgerald**), but Frank and Maud's relationship seemed to be an actual partnership. Letts does a very good job capturing that in this book: you can absolutely see how much Frank and Maud struggled at times and that they had their fights about money and Frank's work, but there's never any question that the two care deeply for each other, and that Maud was always Frank's equal.

Finally, I loved that this book was an ode to both a classic book and a classic film: Frank was inspired by many actual events in his life and Maud's life when he created Oz, and all of that is referenced in this book. There are also chapters that flash forward to the future, in 1939, when Maud visits the set of The Wizard of Oz. In these chapters, there's some "behind-the-scenes" details about the filming of the movie and Maud strikes up a relationship with a young Judy Garland, who experiences her own struggles on set. As the author's note explains, almost all of this book is based entirely on real facts, which makes the historical details that much more meaningful. It's a huge pet peeve of mine when books take too many historical liberties, so I LOVE that I found another author who tries to stay true to history while still crafting a compelling story.

All in all: this book is for Wizard of Oz fans of all ages and is a wonderful ode to both the classic book and film. It's all wrapped up in a story about fascinating and powerful women, and a marriage and life that I couldn't wait to find out more about as I read it.
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"Now, almost twenty years after her husband's death, many people didn't recognize his name, but was there anyone, big or small, who didn't know Dorothy and the Scarecrow, the tin man and the Lion?"

Who hasn't seen the Wizard of Oz? Anyone? I know that I still watch it at least once a year! Finding Dorothy tells the story of the making of The Wizard of Oz and the story of Maud Gage Baum (the widow of the Author) and her life with her husband, Frank Baum (L. Frank Baum). The Struggles they faced during their marriage, their love, and Frank's writing of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

This book is told in two time-lines - Maud and Frank's life together and later when Maud goes to Hollywood and is on set and strikes up a relationship with Judy Garland during the filming of The Wizard of Oz. I learned many interesting facts while reading this book - the ruby red shoes I coveted as a child, were not meant to be red, Emerald City was not green, they almost cut "Somewhere over the Rainbow" out of the movie and that Judy Garland was slapped, forced to go every other day without food, had to smoke 80 cigarettes a day and took pills to suppress her appetite and then those to help her sleep. Judy won an Academy Award for her performance and walked away with a drug problem.

Maud was a formidable woman and stood up for Garland and became friends with her. Through the course of the filming, when not sticking up for Garland, she was fighting with producers to keep true to her husband's work. She was spunky and not afraid to speak her mind and speak up when she saw something which wasn't right. She was, after-all, the daughter of a famous women's suffrage and feminist activist.

This started a little slow for me and I found myself picking up other books, but then it hooked me! I appreciated the dual timelines and learning about Maud's earlier life. It is a shame that L. Frank Baum never lived to see his work made into a movie. A former actor and theater man, I imagine he would have been proud of the movie and of his wife for becoming involved and being there during the filming. 

I am finding that I am enjoying reading the Afterword of books more and more and this book was no exception. The Author tells how as a young girl she wanted to be like Dorothy “...one who could stare down a lion, melt a witch, tame a wizard." She also shares more history on Frank and Maud Baum and her quest to learn more about the movie and her motivation to write this book. 

This is an enjoyable book that I am sure fans of the movie (and the book) will enjoy. I learned a lot and it was fun to see place I know, and have been to, talked about in this book. 

I appreciated how the Author took real people and used real events and facts from their lives to write this book. This is a book that has heart and is a lovely tribute to an iconic and well-loved movie and the story behind the movie. The Story of how the book came to be, the story of a man who dreamed of a better place, full of interesting characters. This is the story of dreamers, of actors, of writers, of couples, of family and of Oz.

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group- Ballantine and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Having recently finished “Finding Dorothy” by Elizabeth Letts, I am happy to have had the chance for the preview; thank you NetGalley and Ballantine Books!

What an wonderful story! Alternating timelines give a fascinating fictional (although based on well researched historical facts) glimpse into the making of the movie, The Wizard of Oz, and the life of Maud Baum, widow of the author of the classic "modernized fairy tale". The story took me a bit to warm up to, but once the blue gingham fabric and pigtails showed up in Dakota Territory, it was hard to set the book down. The afterword was another favorite part of this book for me as it was full of information gathered during the research for the story. After finishing the final page, Ms. Letts gave me one of my favorite things with the book Finding Dorothy: the desire to keep reading to discover more!
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3.5 stars rounded up.

“ The Wizard of Oz “ has been one of my favorite movies for more years than I’m willing to admit. I’ve seen it so many times that I can recite a lot of the dialogue by heart. I have to admit, though, that I have never read the book and having read this novel makes me want to read it. If I had read the book, I would have known that the ruby slippers weren’t red and that Oz is not emerald green, among other things. I just knew that this book would evoke nostalgic feelings and it did. It also brings to light some of things that happened behind the scenes during the filming of the movie and brings us the back story of L. Frank Baum. But this really in so many ways is the story of his wife Maud Gage Baum. 

Through Maud’s story, we come to know the origin of the book, and the personal lives  of the Baums in a dual time line narrative from Maud’s early life starting in 1871 to the Hollywood of 1939.  It was so interesting to see the behind the scenes story of the movie, but so sad to see the workings of the Hollywood machine and how Judy Garland was treated at age 15. She was given pills to help her lose weight, pills to help her sleep, 80 cigarettes a day to help with her diet, slapped in the face when she couldn’t stop giggling during a scene with the Cowardly Lion. So sad, as we know what eventually happens with Judy Garland  with addiction. The manipulation and abuse of a young girl, illustrates the lengths that the studio executives would go to insure success. Though Maud’s role here may be the most fictionalized part, I loved her tenacity and perseverance in trying to insure that the movie reflected her husband’s vision and her desire to take care of Judy Garland. I have to say that the part of the book that I found most engaging was the making of the movie, although Maud’s earlier life lays the groundwork for the toughness she exhibits in 1939. 

I always enjoy knowing the seed for a story, what prompted the author to write a particular story. Loved reading in the afterward, how seeing the movie for the first time at 4 years old ignited her love and connection to Dorothy and then reading it to her son made her wonder about Baum. Seeing a photograph of Maud Baum and Judy Garland taken in 1939 is when she says “I realized I had found a story.” This appears to be very well researched, and while Letts says she altered some dates and names, she says “most of my story is based on known historical fact”, consulting “biographies and diaries, letters and photographs.”  Recommended to others who loved the book or movie as I still do. 

I received an advanced copy of this book from Ballantine Books through NetGalley.
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This is a fascinating historical novel about the writing of the book THE WIZARD OF OZ and L. Frank Baum and his family.  Ms. Letts skillfully moves back and forth between 1938-39, during the making and premier of the movie, and 1871-1900, during the lives of author Frank Baum and his wife Maud. The story comes primarily from Maud Baum, as she recounts her early life with her mother, a suffragette, her father, a storekeeper, and her older sister.  When Maud meets and falls in love with Frank Baum, a theater man, her mother is not pleased, as she feels Frank’s prospects are not good. In the 1938-39 sections, Maud is determined to protect the book as it gets turned into a movie.  At the same time, she is drawn to Judy Garland, a 16-year-old actress with a magnificent singing voice and low self-esteem.

Ms. Letts weaves a beautiful story, and draws subtle parallels between the lives of the Baum family and the plot of the book. Since this is historical fiction, the reader wonders how much of the story is true and how much is made up.  The author addresses that question in an extensive Afterword, where she outlines both facts and opinions, and provides suggestions for further reading.

I read this book immediately after viewing the movie in a local theater for its 80th anniversary, and after reading the original book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, which is very different from the movie.  Both provided excellent context for the reading of this book.  Excellent literary work!
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The story behind the story of The Wizard of Oz! I really enjoyed this well researched and beautifully written novel, told through the voice of Maude Gage Baum, wife of L.Frank Baum. The author weaves two narratives: Hollywood in 1938-1939, during the making of the legendary film, and Maude’s childhood and marriage to L. Frank Baum. From the hard scrabble life in the Dakota Territory, to The 1893 Columbian Exposition and beyond to Hollywood, the novel is rich in history with a fascinating “behind the scenes” storyline, providing an inside look at the experiences in Baum’s life which inspired him to pen one of the greatest stories of all time. A must read for Oz fans!   I can't wait to share this book with my library patrons.  Thank you, Netgalley, for providing me with an ARC of this wonderful novel!
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I have no idea how many times I have watched The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so when hearing about Elizabeth Letts new book, I knew it was one not to pass up.  

There were two timelines going on in the book.  One was about Maud Baum’s life and her marriage to Frank.  The other was about the making of the movie and Maud’s determination to see that the movie stayed true to Frank’s book.  

It was interesting to learn the story behind the story.  What a pleasure it was to learn that L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was such a positive and creative soul.  Throughout the book there are several stories that are the background to how Frank came to create the characters in the book.

I was a bit taken aback at how Maud was portrayed during the making of the movie, but I can also see how that might have been the way it was on the set.  She was an outsider among the movie people and an elderly woman as well, so often as I read, it seemed that the people involved with the movie were just placating her to keep her out of their way.

I enjoyed the book and I feel like anyone who has grown up loving The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will also enjoy reading Finding Dorothy.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing an advance copy of which I am happy to give an honest review.
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What a magical story!  Letts writes this delightful story in dual timeframes and it is woven together seamlessly.  Not only are we immersed in the life and marriage of Maud and L. Frank Baum, but also in the filming of the Wizard of Oz in Hollywood in 1939.  Letts has done her homework well and has created a fascinating story based on the life of Maud Baum, wife of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard Of Oz.  If you want a bit of magic in your life, you won’t want to miss this fantastic book.
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Finding Dorothy is the interweaving of L. Frank Baum, writer of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series, his wife Maud who sees the fruition of his work to the screen, and the behind the scenes making of the movie, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the late 1930's. The story also includes the terrible treatment of Judy Garland during the making of the movie from both the studio heads, director and sadly her own mother Ethel.  It  delves into how the famous song "Over the Rainbow" was almost cut from the movie. But most important who Dorothy is to the writer, his wife, and to Judy Garland.

This historical novel well researched by author Elizabeth Letts begins with a young Maud running through a neighbor's yard and being terribly frightened by the scarecrow positioned on a post.  This is an example of what I began calling little "Easter eggs" of scenes from the actual movie and how they came to fruition from the Baum's own lives. The story continues with Maud and Frank meeting and falling in love, Frank an actor with an incredible imagination, and Maud a woman's rights advocate, realist and the household financier. 

During the filming of the movie itself, Maud decides to oversee its making to make sure it stays true to Frank's book.  She soon becomes Judy Garland's protector and secret keeper.  She sees the abuse of Garland from giving her diet pills as to not gain any weight because her costume is too tight as it is, to the mistreatment Garland endured from some of the men and even her mother who either agreed with them, or looked the other way.

This book will be enjoyed by anyone who has read the book series, or ever seen the movie.  It gives insight into how the characters were developed and even where some of the infamous lines in the movie came from.  Unfortunately it also is perhaps the introduction to a drug addiction which plagued Judy Garland her whole life and was the start of her great sense of insecurity. It delves into the love of Frank and Maud Baum, their family, their losses and their highs, but it is especially about the woman whose strength enabled the story to be told in both book and movie form. I highly recommend Finding Dorothy.


Thank you #NetGalley #Ballantine Books for the advanced copy.  Finding Dorothy will be out on February 12.
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L. Frank Baum wrote a book that would prove to be one of the most beloved books of all times, “The Wizard of Oz”.  What child doesn’t know this magical story?  This new book by Dorothy Letts tells the story behind the story of the Land of Oz.  The book centers on Maud Gage Baum, Frank’s wife, and fluctuates between the childhood and life of Maud starting when she was 10 years old in 1871 and the time period when the movie with Judy Garland was filmed and released.

Not only was Maud the daughter of a well-known suffragette, she was also one of the first few women admitted to Cornell University.  When she met Frank Baum and fell in love, her degree no longer mattered and off she went with him as the wife of a traveling actor.  Frank was a wonderful husband and proved to be just as wonderful a father to their four sons.  What he wasn’t too successful at was making money.  Though their life was lived frugally, Maud and Frank and their sons were happy and content.  Frank always was able to enrich their lives by his entertaining antics.  He was a dreamer and always dreamed of a better life for them.

The section of Maud’s involvement with the filming of the famous movie and her protective feelings for Judy Garland was very entertaining, though I’m not sure how factually accurate it was.  Regardless, I found this part of the book fascinating, filled with little tidbits about the actors and Hollywood.

The best part of the book is seeing how bits and pieces of Maud and Frank’s lives ended up in his book.  I thought that was very clever of the author and apparently is based on historical fact.  I’ve gotten away from historical fiction but knew I wanted to read this one since I love the movie so much.  I’m glad I requested it as it was very enjoyable and in the telling of the background of a magical story, it was quite magical itself.

Recommended.
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Wonderful piece of historic fiction, about the life and purpose of Maud Baum, wife of the author of the Wizard of Oz.  It's amazing that a book written over 100 years ago, when viewed in this fashion, can be seen as so very timely.  An interesting and compelling look into the lives of the Baums.
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