"A thousand miles ago, in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains, there lived a firework-maker called Lalchand and his daughter, Lila."
Lila, the heroine of Philip Pullman's charming fable, was, as a baby, "a cross little thing, always crying and refusing her food, but Lalchand built a cradle for her in the corner of the workshop, where she could see the sparks play and listen to the fizz and crackle of the gunpowder." Once out of her cradle, she showed a marked talent for pyrotechnics, even inventing her own fireworks with names like Tumbling Demons and Shimmering Coins. Nevertheless, when Lila tells her father she'd like to become a master firework-maker, he's shocked. Firework-making is no job for a girl, he tells her; besides, with her burned fingers and singed eyebrows, he's afraid he'll never be able to find a husband for her.
If Lalchand is horrified by Lila's ambitions, his daughter is equally appalled by the prospect of a husband. Instead, she decides to run away to Mount Merapi, where every firework-maker must go to claim some of the royal sulphur from Razvani the Fire-Fiend. Lila's adventures on the road to Merapi alternate with those of her best friend, Chulak, and his talking white elephant, Hamlet, who set out after her when they learn something that could mean life or death for Lila. Along the way, they meet pirates, wild animals, and supernatural beings of every stripe until, at last, Lila must face the scariest obstacle of all: her own fear. Pullman invests The Firework-Maker's Daughter with wit, wonder, and more than a few goose bumps. The charm of the prose is reflected in the black and white illustrations by S. Saelig Gallagher that punctuate this slim novel. Though not as sophisticated as Pullman's remarkable fantasy novels The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, this engaging story does share a courageous heroine, an exciting adventure, and a singular philosophy that ties everything together in a deeply satisfying denouement. (Ages 9 to 12) --Alix Wilber
From Publishers Weekly
This comical adventure about a girl who longs to follow in her father's footsteps crackles with Pullman's (The Golden Compass; Clockwork) usual flair. Lila desperately wants to be a firework-maker like her widower father. Although he has raised her amid the dancing sparks, he wants her to have a husband rather than a vocation. With the help of her entrepreneurial friend Chulak, the personal servant to the king's talking white elephant, Lila tricks her father into revealing the secret to his profession, then bravely departs to retrieve the royal sulphur from Razvani the Fire-Fiend at the heart of a volcano. Pullman marries elements of fairy tale with slapstick humor as Lila outwits a vaudevillian band of pirates and scales jagged mountains on her quest. Gallagher's (Blue Willow, reviewed above) softly focused graphite drawings lend magical mystery as Lila fearfully contemplates the dancing fire imps at Mount Merapi and emphasize the absurdity as the elephant, his flanks emblazoned with advertisements, kneels before the Goddess of the Lake in order to save Lila from Razvani. If the tale, first published in Britain in 1995, isn't as polished as Pullman's other works, it's worth the trip just for the climactic fireworks scene in which Lila gets to show her stuff. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) FYI: As of September, Pullman's Sally Lockhart Trilogy is being reissued in paperback: The Ruby in the Smoke; The Shadow in the North; and The Tiger in the Well; as well as The Tin Princess, which features characters from the trilogy. (Knopf, $4.99 paper each ages 12-up ISBN 0-394-89589-4; -82599-3; ISBN 0-679-82671-8; -87615-4)
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