A lonely girl befriends the terrified tapir she finds stranded in a big, busy city.
Mango Allsorts can leap from the high diving board, do karate kicks, and apply the Sicilian defense in chess (mastering the clarinet remains a work in progress). The pale-skinned, black-haired girl cooks buttered noodles for her father when he’s had an especially trying day. Returning home from her karate lesson one day, she finds traffic at a standstill because a curled-up tapir is lying in the crosswalk. Mango scolds the clueless onlookers, then invites him home with her for banana pancakes. His name is Bambang, and fleeing a tiger has led him far from home. Friendship blossoms: they jump from a high dive; she loses and finds him more than once; they encounter an unscrupulous Collector of the Unusual. The droll and lively opening raises expectations that remain largely unfulfilled. Lessons are learned as Mango and Bambang trade parent and child roles. The story shifts between their points of view, with occasional interruptions from the intrusive narrator, who asks readers irrelevant, uninteresting questions (“What is your nearest public pool like?”), deflating the effervescent fantasy with ho-hum realism and plodding didacticism. Yet readers will learn more about tapirs from the ample, expressive illustrations than the text. Portraying the pair as a charming duo, the art lightens the tone and provides consistency lacking elsewhere.
This debut’s imaginative premise leads to intermittent flashes of wit and quirky humor, but promising material is left unexplored. (Fantasy. 6-9)