An amusing adventure story with a few flaws but great empathy for kids’ feelings.



A boy with problems gains a helpful green dragon friend in this debut middle-grade novel.

Narrator Domingo “Ding” Diaz, 11, of South Los Angeles is finding life difficult lately. He wants to stay away from trouble but a gang is pressuring him to join its ranks; he’s been getting into fights; and his schoolwork has suffered. Far worse than any of this, Ding’s mother died and the boy blames himself. Running heedlessly away from a doctor’s appointment, Ding is hit by a bus—and finds himself in a strange world. He’s been saved from annihilation by a small, raspy-voiced dragon called Green Flash, who welcomes Ding to “Dragon Central,” a planet in a parallel universe. But Ding might be stuck there forever unless he can get back to the Gateway Tree, which he ran from against Flash’s advice. Now the tree, Ding’s only ticket home, is being guarded by a dangerous dragon. Also perilous are the cannibalistic humanoid Droods. Ding and Flash journey in search of a way home and meet Dunya, a girl from a tribe of ancient Sumerians. Complications arise when a dragon hatchling mistakenly imprints on Dunya—infuriating the creature’s actual mother. To return home, Ding must use his wits while also working through guilt and grief over his mother’s death. In his book, retired pediatrician Briley uses his background to bring a good deal of sympathy and understanding to Ding’s burdens. The boy very much wants to be cool and tough, but covers it up with bravado: “No one and nothing dings Ding,” he yells—while running away. The pace is a bit slow, and the humor can be heavy-handed, as when Flash can’t explain the phrase “in a nutshell” in a nutshell, or when Ding and Flash exchange needling banter. Dunya begs them to “stop carping at each other,” a sentiment that readers may agree with. Debut illustrator Durand brings characters and settings alive with his well-drafted, black-and-white drawings.

An amusing adventure story with a few flaws but great empathy for kids’ feelings.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63490-896-2

Page Count: 206

Publisher:, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

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In this riveting futuristic novel, Spaz, a teenage boy with epilepsy, makes a dangerous journey in the company of an old man and a young boy. The old man, Ryter, one of the few people remaining who can read and write, has dedicated his life to recording stories. Ryter feels a kinship with Spaz, who unlike his contemporaries has a strong memory; because of his epilepsy, Spaz cannot use the mind probes that deliver entertainment straight to the brain and rot it in the process. Nearly everyone around him uses probes to escape their life of ruin and poverty, the result of an earthquake that devastated the world decades earlier. Only the “proovs,” genetically improved people, have grass, trees, and blue skies in their aptly named Eden, inaccessible to the “normals” in the Urb. When Spaz sets out to reach his dying younger sister, he and his companions must cross three treacherous zones ruled by powerful bosses. Moving from one peril to the next, they survive only with help from a proov woman. Enriched by Ryter’s allusions to nearly lost literature and full of intriguing, invented slang, the skillful writing paints two pictures of what the world could look like in the future—the burned-out Urb and the pristine Eden—then shows the limits and strengths of each. Philbrick, author of Freak the Mighty (1993) has again created a compelling set of characters that engage the reader with their courage and kindness in a painful world that offers hope, if no happy endings. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-08758-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Blue Sky/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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An artfully crafted tale with mesmerizing details and a subtle exploration of free will and good versus evil.


A fan of magic and her reluctant companion embark on an adventure when the mysterious Blue Man charges them with a mission.

Little Katherine contemplates what exists behind the scrim of the sky, and she gets her answer after she meets a boy named Charlie, who literally runs into her upon fleeing a blue man and a talking salamander he encounters in the nearby forest. The man is non-threatening, and asks the two to help him recover some lost items, to which Katherine heartily agrees. He doesn’t provide much information, however, so once she and Charlie enter this enchanted universe, they must take it upon themselves to figure out what the Blue Man has lost and how to go about helping him find it. With the help of guides like snarky, enigmatic Gerald and good-natured Frank, the children travel through very deep puddles to different realms behind the clouds, learning about the Blue Man’s nemesis, Grey Lady, who may have snatched his magical dragon stones. Schilling’s well drawn, vibrant world elevates his story above the standard adventure quest. His lively, amusing dialogue complements a fantastical world where fish flit through the air like bees (and may accidentally transport you elsewhere), manta rays make shy cabbies, crushed flowers pop back to life and magic permeates everything. While adults will find the narrative captivating, this book is tailor-made for storytime read-alouds.

An artfully crafted tale with mesmerizing details and a subtle exploration of free will and good versus evil.

Pub Date: July 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-595-36189-7

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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