Young Danny has just lost his father. On Danny’s tenth birthday, his mother gives him a magical ticket to Dreamland where Danny can have all the adventures he can imagine. Along with his friends Lucy and Tom and a full cast of characters that includes a unicorn, a giant, a dragon, and a talking cricket, Danny must try to save Dreamland from Stregona the witch and the evil Incubus that haunts his dreams.
Dreamland is a book of adventure, but it is much more than that. It tells a story that builds confidence, that builds trust in friends and family, and that underlines the fact that kindness and understanding are often much more effective than violence and anger. It is targeted to younger readers (ages 9 – 12) but readers of all ages will benefit from the lessons of Dreamland.
Danny’s adventures with Grullo the giant, Jim the man in the moon, and with the cavemen are fast-paced, exciting and entertaining. Like Harry Potter, Danny faces challenges and dangers, but never alone. His innate kindness and understanding plus the growing trust he has for his friends Lucy and Tom are the basis for his success.
Grullo is a wonderful character: frightening in appearance but simple in heart and mind. Jim, the man in the moon, is the perfect image of an absent-minded professor. The cavemen are strong, brave, and generous, characteristics that would certainly enable their survival in a threatening world. Argenta, queen of the unicorns, is wise, serene and brave. It is very easy to picture Joey, her son, as an eager puppy (or colt), full of energy but sorely lacking in caution.
Ms. Clements successfully builds tension in the last section of the book when Danny and his friends arrive at the castle and Danny is challenged to fight in a joust. Here the book’s atmosphere becomes much more serious and much darker. The suspense increases as Danny must face his worst fears. But by this time, Danny’s belief in himself has grown thanks to the support of his friends and the wonderful Dreamland cast.
The ending is certainly not a surprise, but it is satisfying and complete.
I found the opening scene (Danny’s nightmare) to be frightening and I’m an adult. I think it might be a bit too much for younger readers. It is a very well written scene; the reader can actually feel Danny’s fear and panic. I do think that some younger readers will be troubled by the scene.
Oddly, the nightmare scene is much more believable than the scene towards the end of the book when Danny sees his father in a hospital room. This scene, a crucial one for understanding the story, felt rushed and not as well developed as it could have been.
Dreamland is a wonderful story for children – and for adults. I think it would be especially good for children who face problems for which they have no words or no one to talk to about. Aside from the scary opening, the book is full of trust, confidence, and kindness. It will appeal equally to boys and girls and children of all ages. This book was awarded the One Stop Fiction Book Award.