Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A plague of unicorns by Jane Yolen

The making of the Unicorn

Take this bone, this ivory,
This slender pyramid, this spear,
This walking stick, this cornucopia,
This twisted instrument of fear,
This mammoth tusk, this pearly thorn,
This mythic spike, this maiden's bier,
This denticle, this rib of time,
This alabaster harrow - here
We start the beast, we give it name.
The world will never be the same.

When you read a book by Jane Yolen author of over 300 books (Owl Moon) you are immediately in the safe hands of a wonderful storyteller.  How can you go wrong with a book about unicorns?  One of my childhood favourites was The Little White horse by Elizabeth Gouge - and on a more recent re-reading it has certainly stood the test of time.

I love the chapter headings in this book A Plague of Unicorns :

1.  In which we are introduced to a short history of the unicorn plague
2. The short history of the unicorn plague part two
4.  In which James asks too many questions and gets too few answers

The plague is happening in the orchards of Cranford Abbey.  There are five different varieties of apple trees but the unicorns have discovered the prized golden Hosannah apples.  Each year, on their fall migration, they stop at the Abbey and feast on these precious apples - taking all but the few growing on the highest branches.

Abbot Aelian decides to send for the heroes but sadly, even though hundreds turn up, they all fail because none were prepared for the actual battle.

"You did not say it was a herd of unicorns.  ... A single hero cannot possibly face all of them."

Meanwhile little James is living in Castle Callander about fifty miles from the Abbey.  His is a curious boy and his constant questions frustrate every adult and most remain unanswered.  It is only his older sister Alexandria who will take the time to either answer him or take him to explore the castle library which is a fabulous place.

James asks questions like these :

Why does the sun rise in the morning?
Why do some babies sleep all the time and others not at all?
How can a country change its name?  Can I change my name?
Do roses come in black for funerals?
Why do maids dust things when it's dust they should be removing?

His uncle decides (even though James is very young) to send him to the Abbey where he might learn the value of silence.  Luckily for the Abbot, James is able to hold back a little on his questions and even though he his desperately homesick he listens to the discussions regarding the unicorn problem and he comes up with the perfect solution.

This is a slim book but I really enjoyed the setting, heroism and ingenious solution to the unicorn problem. After reading A plague of Unicorns an older reader might enjoy books by Tamora Pierce or John Flanagan.  We also have a little series of books by Jane Yolen about Merlin as a young boy.

After no success, the abbot finally calls upon the most unlikely of heroes, one suggested by no other than young James. That hero is small and unprepossessing but possesses the skill to tame the beasts. Though wildly skeptical, Abbot Aelian must risk everything and believe in this recommended stranger or risk the fall of Cranford Abbey.  KidsReads

No comments: