An evil enchanter commands the most powerful device in the land, and the use of violence to defeat him is foredoomed to failure. Can four children light the way for good to prevail?
The Call to Shakabaz, by Amy Wachspress, is a children’s fantasy adventure of a different color, many different colors in fact. The book is set in an African American cultural context and all the characters in the book are Black, or Black mixed in with other vibrant hues. There are almost no books for children and young adults in the fantasy adventure genre with any Black characters, let alone a whole book featuring them. The book is also unusual in that it does not depend on the typical Anglo-Saxon imagery to make it magical and it does not rely on a gory violent battle scene to resolve the central conflict. Instead, the book demonstrates the fundamental principles of nonviolence as practiced by Dr. King and Gandhi.
Launched on King Day, 2007 to a standing-room-only crowd at Mendocino Book Company in Ukiah, California, the book won an iParenting Media Award within two weeks of its release and it has been honored as a Finalist for the 2007 Indie Excellence Book Awards in the Children’s Fiction Category. The author has been featured in interviews on The Bev Smith Show (syndicated to radio stations nationwide) and Just One More Book (an Ontario-based children’s books website). Bob Spear at Heartland Reviews has identified the book as a recommended title for reluctant readers because it is high interest, and he nominated it for a BookSense Pick. It is also recommended by enthusiastic reviewers at Teens Read Too, Midwest Book Review, and Reader Views. Cheshire Bookshop owner Linda Rosengarten in Fort Bragg, California writes: “The Call to Shakabaz is one of those rare books with cross-generational appeal. Readers of all ages will not be able to put this novel down, right through to the unexpected, magical climax. The Call to Shakabaz provides a completely satisfying read, with a refreshing approach to the fantasy genre.” Stephanie Velas at Black Oak Books in Berkeley, California reports that The Call to Shakabaz was one of the top 10 children’s books sold at the store this spring.
Wachspress sidesteps many of the usual conventions and offers original resolutions to a variety of sticky situations. When the recently orphaned Goodacre children are transported to the land of Faracadar, they must discover and develop their special gifts and talents, which require that they exercise ingenuity, creativity, and compassion. Fourteen-year-old Doshmisi and her younger siblings Denzel, Maia, and Sonjay are given the task of retrieving the powerful Staff of Shakabaz from the evil enchanter Sissrath. They travel through a colorful landscape with their Faracadaran guide and their Aunt Alice’s clever, pesky, and often hilarious parrot, Bayard Rustin. The adventurers must contend with many obstacles and foes, including a giant sea serpent spewing green goo, skeeter birds with uncanny eyesight, the smelliest man in the land (named Compost), the deadly mountain geebachings (who cause their victims to laugh themselves to death), as well as Sissrath himself and his minions (who shoot deadly poison darts at their enemies). Assistance is provided to them along the way by the griot, the high chief and his clever daughter, talking whales, ancient trees, drummers, inventors, butterflies, wolves, tigers, and the peculiar sprites who live underground in the hills.
The book offers a refreshingly different perspective on adventuring in make-believe lands and challenges young readers to reconsider the nature of violence and how we resolve conflict. When the last page turns and the dust clears, this book will inspire readers to think and think again.
THE CALL TO SHAKABAZ
“I think Compost travels somewhere on this road, otherwise we would see people on it,” Jasper called to the others with concern. “Look sharp.”
Only moments after Jasper’s warning, a tiny puff of dust appeared ahead of them on the road and a terrible smell like rotting vegetables wafted to them on the breeze. “Into the field, quickly,” Jasper called to them. “That’s Compost up ahead! I can smell him.”
The travelers tumbled off their tigers and rolled down into the tall grass by the side of the road. The tigers took off at a fast clip to crouch behind some nearby boulders. Jasper led the Goodacres, who crept behind him on their bellies, further into the grass and away from the road. They found a ditch and eased down into it. The smell of rot had become quite strong and a group of armed soldiers appeared, led by the filthiest person the Goodacres had ever seen. They peered up at the road through the blades of tall grass as Compost and his soldiers came to a halt. Compost sniffed the air suspiciously. He had the nappiest uncombed hair and a film of dirt and dust covered his yellowish brown skin. He jumped down off his tiger and his fat stomach wiggled like Jell-O over his belt. He held his nose high as he sniffed noisily.
“I smell something foul,” he told his followers.
“Probably smells his own breath,” Sonjay whispered, and Denzel clapped a hand over Sonjay’s mouth.
Compost started to walk out into the field right toward the hidden travelers, sniffing as he went. Doshmisi realized any moment he might smell them out there hiding. She slowly reached down to the bag at her side and pulled out the wrapped herbs given to her by Crystal. She unwrapped the lavender and laid it in the open. The pungent, clean scent of the purple flowers filled the air. Compost reared back and covered his nose with his hand. “No, no, not here,” he muttered, “that’s not them.” He walked in a different direction, looking confused. Doshmisi had thrown him off with the strong scent of the lavender. He banged around in the tall grass for a little longer. Then he returned to the soldiers on the road. He ordered them off their tigers and had them fan out to search the grass. Meanwhile Compost returned to his tiger and lifted a birdcage off the tiger’s back.
“Skeeter,” Jasper breathed almost noiselessly. “It will see us for sure.”
Denzel looked around in panic, thinking fast, searching for a better hiding place.
Just then, Maia pointed to her arm. The others soon saw that her butterfly friends had come back and they sat perched all over Maia. Then, as they watched, more and more butterflies filled the air and came to rest on the travelers. Up on the road, Compost released the skeeter from its cage, but by the time the skeeter took to the air, the butterflies had completely covered the travelers, so thick that not a hair of them remained visible. The butterflies covered the field in all directions from the spot where the travelers lay. Thousands of millions of butterflies had instantly appeared and made the entire landscape disappear under the bright festivity of their red-orange-turquoise wings.
The travelers could hear the skeeter squawking overhead in frustration and the soldiers returning to the road. “Never mind,” Compost told them. “This field is altogether too cheerful for me.” His soldiers laughed at that comment. Compost called the skeeter back to him. Then the search party mounted their tigers and proceeded down the road, while those they sought remained hidden behind them in the field, covered by butterflies and shielded from Compost’s sensitive nose by the scent of lavender.
The travelers lay in the field for a long time to make sure that Compost had truly gone. After awhile, the butterflies began to fly away. Maia thanked them in a soft, quiet voice. In the end, when the butterflies had taken to the air, one particularly large butterfly, three times as large as the others, settled on Maia’s hand.
“Look at this one,” she told the others. “Look how big it is, and I think it’s nodding its head at me.”
“Butterflies can’t nod,” Denzel said.
“This one can,” Maia told him, and when he looked it certainly seemed like the butterfly nodded its head.
“I think you have Percival himself,” Jasper said with a note of awe in his voice.
“Who would think that a creature so small would save our lives?” Maia wondered. Then Percival took to flight with the rest of his tribe, which drifted away. The tigers bounded joyfully across the field from their hiding place behind the boulders, where the butterflies had concealed them too.
“Let’s go,” Jasper said. “I think we can make Akinowe Lake by sunset, which would be great because I want you to see the view from the top before we go down to the shore.”
Nuts and Bolts
Title: The Call to Shakabaz
Author: Amy Wachspress
Publisher: Woza Books
Trade Paperback; 6 x 9; 272 pages; $15.50
Distributed by Baker & Taylor and Follett Library Resources
Printed on 100% recycled paper as part of the Green Initiative
Publication Date: January 15, 2007
Voice: (707) 468-4118
Also out in Audio Book format: The Call to Shakabaz Audio Book
Produced by Legacy Audio Books, Inc.
Audio Book: $29.99
Available through Follett Library Resources, Quality Books Inc., BCH, Brodart Co., Baker & Taylor, and Legacy Audio Books, Inc.