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Canlandia
      Lavender Blue & the Faeries of Galtee Wood
Steve Richardson, illustrated by Fiona Sansom
      Steve Richardson, illustrated by Larry MacDougall
Impossible Dreams Publishing, 166 pages
      Impossible Dreams Publishing, 72 pages

Canlandia
Lavender Blue & the Faeries of Galtee Wood
Steve Richardson
Steve Richardson is an award-winning author living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is currently the New Mexico manager for M.J. Thomas Photography. Lavender Blue won the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award for best in juvenile fiction in 2013.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

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I've read or heard that many people lose some of their fondness for the taste of sugar as they get older. That seems to have happened to me. Although, actually, I've never been that much of a candy eater. Chocolate, sure, but the darker the better. Ice cream, any time, although I like it better with nuts and/or fruit in it, not so much with little lumps of hard candy. Most candy, the stuff that is mostly just sugar, makes my teeth hurt just to think about it.

So frankly it was with some misgivings that I picked up an illustrated novel for young readers titled Canlandia which seemed to take place in the land of that old board game "Candyland" -- remember that? Or maybe the land that Burl Ives sang about in "The Big Rock Candy Mountain." For you younger folks, it might seem similar to some of the games you play, like "Candy Crush."

In other important ways I was drawn to the book. One of my passions is books as art objects. I think even the most mundane mass market paperback has a certain aesthetic value. But a book like this is irresistible! Well designed and printed, heavy enameled paper, lavishly illustrated with numerous full color paintings, large trim size, hardcover with dustjacket and illustrated boards, it is the type of book we seldom see today. It brings to mind a time when fancy illustrated books were more affordable and common, both for publishers and readers.

Reading the first chapter brought me another delightful surprise. How old were you when you first read Ray Cummings' The Girl in the Golden Atom? Young enough to be thrilled by the concept? I certainly was, and maybe I still am. I remember talking with a good friend about various wild ideas and concepts; I don't recall how the topic came up, but I found myself at some point explaining the ideas in the Cummings' story -- how the protagonist was able to perceive how similar molecular and atomic structure was to planetary, galactic and intergalactic structure, and even super-microscopically see and interact with civilizations existing on atoms, as if they were tiny worlds. This probably has more to do with the way humans use metaphor to think about reality than reality itself, so at some point I must have apologized to my friend for getting silly. But my friend said, "No... I have shivers running down my spine!"

As you may have guessed, the protagonist of Canlandia is able to visit the world made of candy by shrinking down into, not a gold atom, but a molecule of sugar.

The characters are simply but effectively portrayed. The protagonist is a young boy who is talented and athletic but dominated by an older brother, and as insecure as most youngsters. When he finds himself in Canlandia, he is challenged by danger and adventure, and fortunately mentored by a skilled, confident young Canlandia woman warrior. I did worry a about their sugar intense diet, and about protein sources in the food, but a story like this isn't really required to be entirely credible.

Early in my book selling career, I met colleagues who ran a store which specialized in children's books. They had a policy which forbade books which used weapons -- such as guns or swords, for example. I was sort of appalled. I mean, when I thought about some of my favorite stories as a youngster... there were weapons! How could you create certain sorts of action or conflict without weapons? Much too restrictive! This book reminded me of that ban. The protagonist's weapon of choice is a slingshot (bringing to mind Bart Simpson?). For ammunition he uses a pocket full of ball bearings brought from home, supplemented with hard candy and such. There is a clear attempt to keep the violence to a modest level, and it is easy to imagine using a slingshot to stun opponents, rather than seriously injure. I do wonder about the supporting protagonist, the accomplished woman soldier who uses a bow and arrows. There was a common motif in the Green Arrow comics of my youth, where "boxing glove arrows" were used to stun miscreants. No such unlikely device is used here, but the narrative does avoid describing death or serious injury.

The use of lavish color illustration is an honored tradition for books intended for young readers, and recalls well loved books like the Scribner Classics and their imitators, illustrated by masters like Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Frank Schoonover and others of the Brandywine School. This sort of book is not common now, because of the expense. The illustrations in Canlandia, with intense saturated color, recall for me the work of Maxfield Parrish, and in the science fiction and fantasy field, Hannes Bok. I think these paintings are also influenced by more modern hands, with the photo-realistic approach to fantastic themes of a Greg & Tim Hildebrandt or Bob Eggleton. (Eggleton provides a brief foreword.)

I see this book as something with which a young reader would empathize and find immersive.. Even the youngest child could be drawn into this story with the help of an adult reader, find additional narrative in the paintings, and probably, eventually, be motivated to unlock the story in the text themselves. This book could be a reading gateway.

Lavender Blue & the Faeries of Galtee Wood is a very different book, with a different mood and look. I hope I don't give too much away by writing that the central narrative of the book involves a magical quest or perhaps test in which a girl endeavors to save the life of her best friend. Dealing with the reality of mortality in this direct manner is unusual and dark for a book intended for young readers, or in some cases, to be read to youngsters. Some kids might find it confusing, since mortality is a difficult topic for some, and others might find it frightening. In many cases, it might lead to useful and constructive conversations. The full color art, this time by Larry MacDougall, is much darker and somber, appropriately, but none the less fantastic and magical. And the books format and design is again a luscious return to an older and more opulent approach to book production.

Copyright © 2014 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.


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