Kindergarten - grade 6 / Ages 5 - 11.
"We turned, and there was mighty Donatello towering over us. In all the confusion he had become the most wonderful storybook dragon of all time. His blue wings, shimmered in the sunlight as they spread and carried him high above us. He was full of joy and best of all, he was our friend."
But all of a sudden, he cried out in pain and crumpled to the ground."
What happens if we make a wish on a Christmas star? Raffaella and her brother Marco believe that wishes made on Christmas Eve are most likely to come true. In Merlin's Castle, Christmas Eve becomes a wonderful time of adventure for the children and their pet lizard Donatello. When all three wish for Donatello to be big and powerful, the children are magically transported into a castle and the company of the famous wizard Merlin.
From the opening page, award-winning author Laszlo Gal beautifully entrances the reader by implying that the story about to be told is out of the ordinary. Gal sustains interest in the book by incorporating elements of suspense, action, and drama throughout.
One admirable feature of the book is the promotion of the pleasures of reading. By using the crystal ball given to them, the characters magically enter into different books and travel through time to fulfil their wishes. This concept is particularly appealing to children in the five to eleven age group as their exposure to books is already well established, and, therefore, the reader's imagination can easily be activated.
Excitement for Marco and Raffaella take many forms as they walk on rainbows, travel in flying ships, and meet a king. Donatello's wish to be big and powerful is fulfilled, but the story takes a moving twist when Donatello is asked to stay in Merlin's castle to protect the king. For Donatello, the excitement of the imaginary world is strong, yet his love for Marco and Raffaella is stronger. Donatello chooses to go home, even though he will be small again. This conclusion provides an emotional ending that reinforces the strong relationship between the children and their pet.
The illustrations, done by the author, demonstrate that Gal excels as a writer and an illustrator. Pastel shades combined with a textured style of drawing are excellent choices for conveying the fantasy element of the story. In many places, a deliberate absence of detail, draws attention to the the main parts of the illustration. In other illustrations, the attention to detail is very evident. Merlin's Castle is an enjoyable indulgence and one that can be readily repeated.
Jo-Anne Mary Benson is a writer/reviewer for North American magazines, newspapers, and journals.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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