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Children's LiteratureFighting words whirl at the castle when Prime Minister DeCree is stymied by a dilemma while compiling a dictionary: how should he define "delicious" The King and Queen disagree. He says apples; she says Christmas pudding. When no one at court sides with him, the King orders DeCree's adopted son, twelve-year-old Gaylen, who serves as his assistant, to poll all the kingdom's residents. Gaylen's interactions with townspeople and farmers reveal unique answers and intensify divisions and distrust. The queen's villainous brother, Hemlock, as noxious as his name suggests, rides ahead of Gaylen, aggravating fears with lies, poisoning public opinion, and fomenting war. During his journey, Gaylen experiences friendship and betrayal, while recognizing the importance of family and community. He encounters fantastical beings that knew the kingdom before humans arrived and interfered. He chances upon a wise woldweller, helpful dwarfs, and a melancholy mermaid, Ardis. The minstrel Canto is key to Gaylen's mission. Hemlock's damming scheme to achieve authority suggests new meanings for the expression "water control." Readers will enjoy puns, legends, and songs in this universally relevant, timeless novel, which is useful to initiate conversations regarding humans' impact on nature. For discussion of the power of precise definitions pair with Lois Lowry, The Giver (1993), or of water issues see Kate Klise, Regarding the Fountain: A Tale, in Letters, of Liars and Leaks (1998). 2005 (orig. 1969), Sunburst/Farrar Straus Giroux, Ages 8 to 12.
—Elizabeth D. Schafer