Monday, May 2, 2022

The Creature of the Pines

The Creature of the Pines
by Adam Gidwitz
illust. by Hatem Aly
Recommended Ages: 10+

On his first day at a new school, Elliot makes a friend – an adventurous girl named Uchenna – and finds himself on a field trip to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. It's a creepy enough place for a school group to spend the day as it is; but their tour guide is Professor Fauna, the most eccentric teacher in the school and, secretly, the founder of the Unicorn Rescue Society. While the kids learn about the strange history of the Pine Barrens and its ethnic melting pot dating back to before the American revolution, they also kind of recruit themselves for a mission to protect one of the eastern United States' most endangered mythical creatures.

Youbetcha, we're talking about the Jersey devil, and boy, is this one cute. Blue and furry, with red wings and big, yellow eyes. Elliot and Uchenna free it from an entangling balloon string, and it follows them back to the bus where it gets into their lunch. And with that, they have a pet Jersey devil; there's no going back. If only keeping him secret and safe were simple. Even though Jersey (as Elliot names him) can become invisible when he's in shadow, in broad daylight he really stands out. And that can be a problem when he acts out his grudge against balloons in a public park or, worse, follows a yummy scent into a greenhouse owned by the nefarious Schmoke Brothers. These two millionaires are the dead opposite, and deadly enemies, of Professor Fauna – devoted to capturing, and OK with destroying, last-of-their-kind creatures from all over the world.

It's a quirky, funny adventure, compressed by its madcap pace into a single day's action. Also, besides featuring really educational content, it has this passage to recommend it:
Miss Vole stopped speaking. "Oh." She paused. And then, very dismissively, she said, "But that's just a myth."

The professor fixed Miss Vole with a dark stare. "Children, your teacher is one of those ignorant people who believe that just because something is a myth, it cannot also be true. I have decided that you should not listen to your teacher."

The children gasped. Miss Vole tried to reply, but her mouth merely moved, and no sound came out.
This is the first book in "The Unicorn Rescue Society" series, now six books strong, and after this title, each of them with a different co-author. Since I started reading this series with Book 2 (The Basque Dragon), I'm now on Book 3, Sasquatch and the Muckleshoot. Adam Gidwitz has also written the "Grimm" trilogy, So You Want to be a Jedi? and The Inquisitor's Tale, which won a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and was a Newbery Honor Book.

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