The scientist in Simon wished there was time to study the animals he was seeing and catalogue all the quirks of nature and environment that had driven their strange evolution. A herd of spotted marsupials, almost impossible to see, moved in shifting camouflage as they chased the shadows of clouds. A small, horselike animal with gigantic ears that swiveled like saucers was the first to hear him coming, and when it took off across the plains its drumming hooves alerted dozens of lumbering, slow-moving tortoises who vanished into their shells, leaving a sudden rock bed. Mice-like rodents leaped dozens of feet into a stand of cactus, fleeing from birds that veered away from the unforgiving spikes at the last second. Simon watched in fascination as these dramas unfolded around him.
We went to Costa Rica last summer, and now I think I understand where Nadia Aguiar's prose comes from. The ruby-red birds and flowers, the emerald landscapes, the fruit that is sweet but complex. The dark jungle, the bright hillsides. Roseate spoonbills and strawberry frogs. Honest-to-god toucans. It's all astonishing, but it's real.
The miraculous island of Tamarind, where siblings Simon, Maya and Penny washed up after a shipwreck in The Lost Island of Tamarind, reads like that. Deep in the Bermuda Triangle, its startling beauty is murky or brilliant, misted with cloud or sunlit, lush, decadent, fragile... and likely to twist into violence at any moment.
And now the children are back on Tamarind with their friend Helix the jungle boy, saving the island from dire environmental threat and their family from despair. They've missed Tamarind, and so have I.
I have been a relentless promoter of The Lost Island of Tamarind ever since I read it in 2008. Recently, the second-grade teacher at our school read it. The next day, she grabbed me in the schoolyard, her eyes alight, excitedly complaining that there was no way she could wait another minute to read the sequel! Man, I waited years for this book - when I spotted it at the Macmillan booth at ALA Midwinter, watched over by a serene Jean Feiwel, I squealed like a... well, like a second-grade teacher.
Giving a kid The Lost Island of Tamarind feels like passing along a treasured secret. Not that it's that obscure, but it's not part of a giant series, it doesn't have a character's name in the title (think about it: HP, Charlie Bone, Barnaby Grimes, Percy Jackson and the..., Alex Rider), and it has that wonderful, epic, jungly cover.
And when I try to recommend that book to a kid who has already read it, well then it's like a secret handshake. "Ah! So you've read it already! What'd you think?" I ask, one eyebrow cocked. And that kid will have loved it, and I will know that I can definitely find books for that kid. That kid and I share something.
I am happy to report that the things that Nadia Aguiar did so astonishingly well in the first book: sculpt three-dimensional characters in quick strokes; create a perilous situation that the characters react realistically to; and of course this marvelous landscape - she does as well in this second book. Interestingly, most of the new characters that Simon and Maya meet are older people. It may be just the way the book shook out, but I think the inter-generational alliances are interesting - there's a tolerance for each other that people closer in age do not always exhibit.
I am often asked for read-aloud chapter books - many parents want to continue reading aloud to their children after the kids have "outgrown" picture books. In our house, my kids sleep in bunk beds, so it's easier for me to read to them at bedtime from a book that's not illustrated. The Tamarind books are perfect for those slightly older kids who might be ready for Edward Eager, Elizabeth Enright, N.D. Wilson - classic, colorful adventures about kids you can like.