A grieving girl finds herself slipping into an imaginary world.
Since the death of her older, severely disabled sister, Holly, Emily dwells on stories she created for Holly about her sister’s teddy bear, Bluey, and the invented land of Smockeroon. Stressed at school, where no one knows about Holly, and lonely because her best friend has abandoned her, Emily spends time with her neighbor Ruth, a comforting ally who shares the imaginary world she once created for her son before his death, which he called the Land of Neverendings. After Emily experiences escalating visitations from talking toys from Smockeroon who know Bluey, she discovers Ruth’s having similar bizarre encounters. Apparently, the door linking Smockeroon to the real world’s broken, allowing rogue toys to escape. Emily longs to go to Smockeroon to find Bluey—and Holly—but knows she and Ruth must somehow close the breach. Casting Emily as Alice in her class production of Alice in Wonderland, Saunders allows Emily to draw parallels between herself and legendary Alice. References to Winnie-the-Pooh, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and At the Back of the North Wind aptly invoke other imaginary worlds. Even though the surreal cast of meddling toys adds some levity and blurs the line between fantasy and reality, Emily’s grief feels real indeed. Her little English village seems to be a largely white one.
An imaginative, magical story ideal for kids experiencing loss. (Fantasy. 10-12)