Unicorns. An ancient prophecy. An enticing locked chest in a forbidden attic.
This was a fun read. ‘Eve and the Runaway Unicorn’ by Jess Black is the first in the Keeper of the Crystals series. Four books are currently published in the series, and the beautiful covers were what attracted me. Thumbs-up to the librarian who decided to arrange them artfully at (kiddy) eye-level.
Once I got past the start, which threw me (more about that later), I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I liked the subtle environmental themes, and the rhyming clues.
So, what are the stats for this one?
- 10 Chapters
- 75 pages
- ~10,000 words
- First two chapters are set-up
- Chapter 3 we arrive in the fantasy world
- Chapter 6 we break through the evil King’s wall
- Chapter 9 is the climax
- Mid chapter 10 we return to real world.
What makes it work?
- Diverse characters
- Great world-building (just wait until you get inside the wall!)
- Simple plot that is well-crafted.
‘I’m not sure which makes me more nervous,’ Oscar whispered to Eve, ‘heading into forbidden territory to find a unicorn and overthrow a king, or the fact that we are walking next to a wild panther and cheetah.’
The world is vivid and unique. Some junior kidlit settle for a standard kind of world, I loved how Black added in extra details. There is excitement but no real fear factor, which makes it great for younger readers. And I like the addition of modern technology as Oscar checks his mobile for coverage in the Borderlands.
I think this would really appeal to younger primary school kids.
(So what’s that little thing about the start?)
Maybe it’s because my daughter is four and likes to dress up, but when the first sentence was ‘Eve wanted to play dress-ups’, I got the completely wrong idea about the target age for this book. It messed up my interpretations of character until I realised my mistake. Once I made Eve and Oscar older, it started to gel for me.
There is also some gender stereotyping at the start that almost had me set the book aside. I’m like that. Last year in my daughter’s swimming class there were three girls and one boy, and each week the instructor kept bringing three pink kick-boards and one blue. And my daughter often picked the blue, and the boy loved the pink, and it made me happy that they weren’t conforming to what is a pointless society construct. But it flustered the instructor.
I don’t like kids being groomed into stereotypes.
So I wasn’t enamoured with Oscar the ninja and Eve and princess, but I liked the general feel of the story so I kept reading. Happily, this start was offset by how naturally Eve and Oscar interacted later in the book. Their initial division was necessary to explain why Eve would choose to break her Gran’s only rule and take Oscar into the attic. I just wish it had been done another way.
I think that’s something for all children’s writers to continually strive for – ensuring they are encouraging kids to be individuals and to take their own path, rather than conform to unnecessary and outdated standards.
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