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The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

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The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: In part one of this trilogy, we meet twelve-year-old Eva Nine, who has never seen another human being. When her underground home is destroyed, she sets out with her robot and two extraordinary creatures to find out if there is anyone else like her on her world.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: October 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books
ISBN: 978-1847389664

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Tony DiTerlizzi's name will be familiar to many readers as the co-creator of the Spiderwick Chronicles, and it is entirely possible that this new trilogy will become just as popular. It is a charming tale of a young girl who has never seen another human being and who has been brought up by a kindly robot in an underground home. Right from the very first pages we suspect things are not going well: lights flicker and malfunction, machinery and furniture is chipped and scratched, and even the wheel Eva's robot mother moves around on is tread-worn. Eva is being trained to go up into the outside world to meet other humans, but there has been no contact from other Sanctuaries, as the underground homes are called, for a long time. Eva will very soon need to go out and discover for herself if there are any other humans on this strange and colourful planet.

Necessity forces Eva to leave her home before she is ready: a hunter destroys the Sanctuary and chases her into the woods. Before long she realises how unprepared she really is: the simulations her robot Muthr employed in her training bear no relation to the world she now experiences. DiTerlizzi clearly enjoys letting his imagination run riot (indeed, the words Never abandon imagination conclude the Acknowledgments section of the book), and Eva meets sentient plants, walking trees, water bears, hybrid plant-animals and many more fabulous beings during her travels.

It was not easy to decide which category to choose for this delightful book. On the one hand it is science fiction: amazing technologies abound, from particles which allow creatures of different species to communicate, to clothing which nags you if you get dehydrated. But on the other hand, The Search for Wondla contains many of the classic themes of fairy tales: the quest, the lost child who receives help and advice from non-human characters, the cruel queen and the evil hunter. The simplest solution is to say that the author chose the very best from both. In interviews Tony DiTerlizzi cites Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Charlotte's Web as inspirations: in all of them, there is the theme of young people who go to magic places and grow in knowledge before returning home. All he has done, he says, is add cool technology. And the coolness does not end with the story itself: some of the illustrations allow the reader to access, through an 'augmented reality feature' a three-dimensional interactive map. You do need internet access and a webcam to use it, however.

The illustrations, also created by the author, are a marvel in themselves. They riot across these pages, sometimes almost dwarfing the words with their exuberant detail, and they are beautifully presented. Many readers will gallop through the story to find out what happens, then go back and enjoy it a second time by simply looking at all the pictures. Clearly, this author and publisher have no truck with the sad idea that pictures and colours should be restricted to books for smaller children.

Young readers will have no difficulty in relating to Eva. She may be impatient and naive, but her sturdy determination and her loyalty to her friends make her a heroine one can both like and admire. And although the main character is a girl, this is in no way a 'girly' book: the constant danger, the helter-skelter of adventures and experiences and the sheer comedy of some of the situations will make this book just as appealing to boys. Will Eva escape being dissected and displayed in the Queen's museum? What is the significance of the scrap of paper which gives the book its name? And will she ever find another human? The ending, with its last-minute twist, could be seen either as the answer to these questions and the end of Eva's quest, or as a cliff-hanger. There is no need to worry, though: this particular story concludes quite satisfactorily, while opening up several possibilities for further adventures. The only problem will be containing one's impatience for the next book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: Fans of Tony Diterlizzi will also enjoy Kenny and the Dragon, and could also try 'The Mapmaker's Monsters: Beware the Buffalogre! by Rob Stevens.

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