CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 3 . . . . October 6, 2000
And her throat was parched and her lungs were panting for the hot thin air, and she fell to her knees and clung with trembling fingers as the stones began to roll under her again. She let go her little bag of food and her blanket they didn't matter any more. The only thing that mattered was climbing on. She dragged herself on bleeding knees up and up, until every muscle hurt, until she had no breath left in her lungs until she thought she was going to die; and still she went on."A thousand miles ago in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains, there lived a firework-maker called Lachland and his daughter, Lila." So begins this story of adventure, misadventure, friendship, creative genius and love.
Lila desperately wants to follow in her father's footsteps and become a firework-maker. Her father thinks this is no life for a young girl. He says, "Your hair's a mess, your fingers are burned and stained with chemicals, your eyebrows are burned and scorched. How an I going to find a husband for you when you look like that?" The last thing Lila wants is a husband, and so she goes about finding the secrets to being a true firework-maker. She gets help in this endeavor from Chulak, servant to the king's white elephant, Hamlet.
Lila learns she must go on a quest for the royal sulphur to the Grotto of the Fire Fiend, Razvani. On her journey, she meets a colourful band of pirates and climbs Mount Merapi to the Grotto. There are several more twists and turns of the plot but suffice it to say the story is resolved in a firework-making contest.
The characters are endearing and entertaining. Even though readers never know them in depth, they propel the story forward. Lila is spunky, intelligent, creative and directed. Chulak is mischievous and deeply attached to his charge Hamlet, a talking white elephant. Lachland is an old man determined to do what is right for his daughter. A group of characters readers first as pirates go on to be restaurateurs and finally end up as a singing act. The other contestants in the firework contest include Dr. Puffenflasch from Germany, Signor Scorcini from Italy, and Colonel Sparkington from America.
In addition to the play on words in the names of the characters, Pullman provides other humourous moments including a talking animal, an animal billboard, and pirates who not only carry daggers made from wood covered with silver paper but pirates who also keep falling out of their row boat.
Pullman's description of the fireworks is brilliant and exciting.
There is never a dull moment in this fantasy, and young readers will keep turning the pages.
Ruth McMahon, a library consultant and storyteller, is currently the co-chair of the Alberta Young Reader's Choice Award and the co-chair of the Lethbridge Children's Literature Roundtable.
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