In Scheidemann’s book for young readers, the first of a planned series, a young girl braves an enchanted forest to find a special herb to heal her ailing father.
Allegra Sonata, a “fair young maiden” living in “olden times,” hopes that she may find a cure for her father’s illness when she learns of an herb with special healing powers. The catch: The medicinal plant can be found only in a village on the other side of an enchanted forest that “no one dared to enter.” Unfortunately, Scheidemann too quickly undermines that hint of suspense by giving Allegra a convenient touch of amnesia: “Now what was that warning about the forest? I can’t seem to remember it....” The author’s heroine then walks “into the bewitched forest without even thinking.” In the forest, following an encounter with a helpful butterfly, Allegra is briefly menaced by talking salamanders and just as briefly attacked by a predatory plant with “long, spiny leaves” before an obliging unicorn comes to Allegra’s rescue and guides her. The end of the quest is fast and anticlimactic. Allegra easily locates the herb in a villager’s garden and, accompanied by the unicorn, has an uneventful trip home. The unicorn plays no further part in the story. Overall, Scheidemann sets up imaginative situations. Exploring them further, however, might have realized their entertaining potential. Instead, perhaps because of the author’s concern that the book’s vocabulary and sentence construction should be appropriate for younger readers, the narrative and dialogue periodically sag. Allegra to the unicorn: “Okay, I got the herb that I needed. Now I have to get back to my village. Please help me back through the forest.” A similar dullness is found in the book’s static, repetitive cutout-style images of Allegra, trees and houses. A more professional visual approach would add considerable interest.
A sometimes flat narrative about a good-hearted heroine, an enchanted forest and a magic unicorn that needs polishing in order to reach its colorful potential.