Geraldine McCaughrean. Random House Books for Young Readers, $14.95 (120pp) ISBN 978-0-375-83640-4
McCaughrean's (Peter Pan in Scarlet, reviewed Oct. 9) straightforward yet curiously cumbersome novel opens as a photographer crashes his plane near a remote, primitive village. After he falls ""heels over heart into a clump of thornbushes,"" Flash's eyes close and he ""returned to a darkroom empty of pictures or even of dreams."" He awakens to find two young siblings, Sutira and Olu, who take him to their village, where he and his camera cause quite a stir. Since photographs are unknown to the villagers, the photo he snaps of Sutira and Olu ""had pride of place"" in their mother's home, and neighbors queue up at the door to view it. When Flash asks the Village Elder how he should use the nine remaining shots in his camera, the wise man says that the photographer must choose himself how to use these ""nine pieces of magic,"" yet slyly adds, ""There is the cow, of course."" Flash snaps a photo of the revered cow, the first the village has had for many years, as well as the local warriors, the harvest feast and the village ""beauty."" But the ""prettiest smile Flash had ever seen"" belongs to a dying girl whom he photographs, ensuring that her image will live on (""Never before had the Dead continued to smile in the land of the Living""). Though the tale ends on an intriguing note, the author's fans may find this simile-laden narrative rather slow-going. Ages 7-11.
Reviewed on: 10/01/2006