An entertaining, piquant set of fantastical yarns.



Kids battle arrogance, selfishness, guilt, and a cannibal zombie apocalypse in this lively suite of African-themed middle-grade fantasy stories.

Neill (Bunny Man’s Bridge, 2018, etc.), author of the Elk Riders series, creates a beguiling fictional world where cellphones and Land Rovers coexist with magic and spirits in a traditional African village. In “Jamhuri the Proud & the Tree of the Sky,” the young titular character declares himself a great warrior and demands the hand of the chief’s daughter, Latia Solei. To reach her hut atop an enormous acacia tree, he concocts grandiose, Wile E. Coyote–esque schemes: bouncing from a trampoline, lassoing a flock of flamingos, launching himself from a giant slingshot. But when he finally meets Latia, he gets a lesson regarding women’s autonomy that transitions the story from boisterous picaresque to a quietly resonant meditation on maturity. In the King Lear–inflected “Njambi, the Littlest Daughter,” four sisters set out on separate daunting journeys to Mount Kaliande to find the Water of Life that could heal their ailing father. Along the way, Njambi rediscovers that kindness and compassion pay off—and confronts murkier notions about the paradoxes of life and death. The longest story, “How to Fight Zombies,” finds the living dead besieging a nameless African city, where 13-year-old Anastasia is guilt-stricken when her negligence allows her little brother to be infected with the zombie plague. Advised by Njambi and Latia and assisted by Esmeralda, a blind girl who kicks butt with her walking staff, Anastasia astrally projects herself into Limbo to lead the zombies’ departed souls to the afterlife; unfortunately, she first must confront a 20-meter-tall demon called “Devourer of Souls.” The horror elements here are atmospheric and scary, but the story sometimes bogs down in rumination on the metaphysics of storytelling. Pitched at tweens, Neill’s prose throughout is usually well-paced and richly textured, with a nice balance of vigorous action (“a leopard leapt out at her, swinging its claws and grinning a terrible, hungry smile full of sharp teeth”) and Aesopian moralizing (“To hold a thing, one must keep an open hand”).

An entertaining, piquant set of fantastical yarns.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-986005-67-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Tenebray Press

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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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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An expansion of the classic story of the pied piper, this tells of young Penelope, left behind when the piper returns for the children of Hamelin after saving the town from rats. On her 11th birthday, she must enter the world of dreams, accompanied by an eclectic assortment of companions—a talking cat, a jump-roping dragon, a blind harpist—and eventually face the piper himself in a battle of power, greed, and music. Narrated by a 101-year-old Penelope, the story bounces between recollections of the adventure, ruminations on her life, and meeting another Penelope, who is approaching her 11th birthday. By trying to incorporate too many subplots, Richardson fails to explain some of the more central points of the main story. He also introduces and dismisses concepts and props with no consistency. Penelope brings a jump rope with her, but it is rarely mentioned until she has use for it. The only way for Penelope to resist the piper’s enchanted music is to not hear it; she suddenly becomes deaf on her 11th birthday, an occurrence left unexplained. Nor does the reader ever find out why she conveniently regains her hearing upon entering the dreamland. Contrived and disjointed, this is an original interpretation that lacks development. Likely to attract lovers of fairy-tales, but it will disappoint. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55037-629-2

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Firefly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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