Children's Review: Paradise Sands

A girl passes three days imprisoned in a disquieting, fantastical fortress to protect her brothers in Levi Pinfold's picture book Paradise Sands, a visually gripping, cyclical tale of sacrifice and determination.

This epic journey begins with a cryptic six-line poem that frames a puzzling but prophetic path for the story. In several wordless, sepia pages that follow, an unnamed protagonist and her three brothers set out in a worn sedan across a barren "dry and dusty" landscape to fetch their mother. The girl's suggestion to bring their mother flowers elicits a singing callback to the poem, suggesting the family's intimate familiarity with the verse. She is dismissive: "that nonsense... is nonsense." The group stops to gather white blooms but, parched from the heat and dust, the brothers follow the dirt track to "a silent building" where they "drink deeply from the spring" despite the poem's clear admonitions not to. The brothers are spurred by empty stomachs to go deeper into the foreboding stone "HOTEL" and--having partaken of its food and drink--are trapped. After the girl declines the temptations, she faces the Teller, an enormous lion who governs this seductive paradise. The girl refuses the Teller's offerings and demands her brothers' release. Almost amused at her contrarian stance, the lion strikes a bargain: "Three days without eating or drinking and things will be as they were before you came here." She bides time while the animal residents feast, and ultimately secures her brothers' release, though not without sacrifice. The children then retrieve their mother, and a loaded exchange between mother and daughter makes clear the verse she taught them was a purposeful warning.

Pragmatic text sits in somber contrast to Pinfold's lushly detailed and unsettling mixed media artwork. The meticulous nature of Pinfold's art lures the reader's eye to the tiniest illustrative details, such as the texture of the Teller's mane, dirt-caked fissures in the marble columns and the girl's heartbreaking and resigned facial expressions. Cool blue endpapers stand in stark contrast to the leathery dryness of the sepia palette dominating this stunning and heavily symbolic story. Occasional bursts of color, like that of fruit in the trees and the girl's jumper, are startling amid the bleak stone backgrounds. Pinfold (The Song from Somewhere Else) blends underworld mythology with fairy-tale sensibility to haunting effect.

A devastating and spectacular parable about dedication to family and how promises are binding. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Shelf Talker: A girl bears the burden of her family's temptation in an ominous picture book with otherworldly themes and stunningly detailed sepia illustrations.

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