Reviewer Penny Watkins: Penny is a Registered Nurse and specializes in Clinical Informatics. She is also a wife, mom, grandma, activist, coffee lover, cat owner and book addict. Faith and family are her priorities and reading is her second favorite activity. (Sleeping is #1--in my spare time.) She agrees with Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Author: Mike Mason
There is an age at which children discover that their parents cannot always prevent Bad Things from happening. Through the gaps in the umbrella of parental protection, they discover the existence of Evil. Children’s fantasy literature is popular with school age children because it allows them to explore their own power and competence in dealing with life. The Blue Umbrella (and the books that will follow it) is an excellent example of the genre. Kids will enjoy the series immensely, and so will their parents .
Zachary Sparks never knew his father and, as the book opens, his mother has just died. She was walking in the rain when a bolt of lightning struck her umbrella and killed her. After her funeral, two Aunties Zac has never met before, Esmeralda and Priscilla, whisk him off to their stone mansion at Five Corners, promising to take care of him and provide a home for him.
Five Corners is a star-shaped intersection, with a building occupying each intersection. In addition to the Auntie’s mansion are the Church of St. Heldred and All Angles, Porter’s General Store, Eldy’s Balloons and Flowers and The World’s Smallest Business Establishment.
The characters who live and work in Five Corners are even stranger than the businesses. Butler is the Aunties’ miniature minion. Eldy, of the balloons and flowers, is old and wizened and so bent that you look him in the top of his bald head, and The World’s Smallest Business is run by a cranky, dwarfish Barber. The Reverend Cholmondeley and his dysfunctional family live in the church’s parsonage. Sky Porter runs the General Store and lives upstairs, along with the ghosts—or whatever they are—who flash lights through the windows at night.
And then there is Dada, the Aunties’ Darth Vader-like father, who lives in a mental hospital and is the focus of evil in the book. He is wheelchair bound and paralyzed, but that does not keep him from exerting his will. Unlike Vader, Dada does not have a good heart.
Very Bad Things, indeed, happen to Zac and other residents of Five Corners and the surrounding area. Zac is powerless to right the wrongs on his own, and he does not know who to trust. One adult—Sky Porter—seems trustworthy…until Zac learns that Sky may have killed Zac’s mother. As the layers of the story are revealed, however, Zac finds other children who have been caught in Dada’s web. Chesterton and Chelsea Chomondeley, Pethybridge and Iris join forces with Zac to defeat Dada and the Aunties.
Weather provides the backdrop for the entire story. From the lightning bolt that kills Zac’s mother, through hailbows and wind and rain and sunshine and snow, to the lightning bolt that kills…mmm, you’ll have to read it to find out what happens in the end.
The Blue Umbrella is well-written and fast paced. Like other children’s fantasy literature, it is a morality play where children are the main actors who overcome evil. It is, however, unique in the genre because it goes deeper than simply good versus evil. There is a sub theme of self-awareness and self-acceptance and being true to oneself, another area pre-adolescent readers are dealing with.
The characters in The Blue Umbrella are unique. Esmeralda and Pris are caricatures. Esmeralda is tall and thin and always wears furs; Pris is very large and wears lurid pink dresses with weird hats. Sky is homely. Iris is a girl who doesn’t want to be a girl. Pethybridge is such a homely child that his parents and grandparents abandoned him without naming him. Chesterton is …odd, and Chelsea lost her power of speech by asserting herself and refusing to participate in Dada’s evil plots. The only “attractive” character in the book is Sky’s father, who is pretty sure people don’t like him because he is attractive.
Each of the children finds something valuable and strong within himself or herself, and together they find the strength and power to fight Dada and the Aunties. They learn that people can be trustworthy even when they are unable to prevent Bad Things from happening. Zac, especially, even begins to learn compassion when he sees how Dada treats his daughters, the Aunties and almost feels sorry for them. These are complex life lessons that school age children are beginning to learn.
The Blue Umbrella is the first book in Mike Mason’s children’s fantasy series. Book 2 will be Chesterton’s story, and Book 3 will tell about Chelsea. I’m hoping there will be books 4 and 5, about Pethybridge and Iris, too. Readers will be grateful that more books are coming; there’s so much more of the story we want to know. This book was a great read and I’m eager for the next one.