Hiawyn Oram (text) and David Wyatt (illustration), Nine Worlds in Nine Nights: A Journey Through Imaginary Lands, Walker Books Ltd., October 2019, 48 pp., RRP $29.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781406377705
Young readers thrive on mystery and imagination—some like to visualise places and characters in their own minds without illustrations—others rely on visual stimuli to provoke a response. This is an intriguing book for children who are visual learners. It will prompt them to enter detailed magical realms beyond the world they know.
This is an impressive, large hardcover book that looks like it is designed for the Christmas gift market. Packaged as the “found notebooks” of Professor Gable, the labelled artefacts, scientific sketches and diagrams from her journeys are designed to make the reader believe that these remarkable worlds really exist. Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, the deep blue and silver cover with a gold title offers adventure and escape from reality.
The story is essentially one of redemption. Much like Charles Dickens’ Scrooge, the protagonist Professor Dawn D. Gable has a lesson to learn and is guided through nightly experiences by an other-worldly apparition, in this case, Hyllvar the dragon.
On her birthday (not Christmas, as for Scrooge) the Professor is visited by the children of her brother Tom. They bring an unwanted birthday present, a book entitled “Lost in the Imagination”. Their goal is to free the Professor from her “desolate, fact-bound life”. She throws the book into the fire.
A dragon creature then emerges holding the unburnt tome. It is Hyllvar the dragon, descendant of an ancient Norse dragon. With his shape-shifting machine he will transport the Professor and show her nine worlds in nine nights with the goal of reigniting her imagination. Ultimately, the experience will dispel the guilt she has harboured about a childhood accident.
The worlds of Kor, Mecanopolis, Camelot, Wyvern Abbey and the Dimsky Mountains, Atlantis, Lilliput, Laputa, Buyan and Valhalla are richly illustrated with accompanying notes.
Although the plot is thin and predictable, there is quite a lot of reading in the dense text and a great deal of rich detail in the illustrations of the nine worlds. The artistry of the book is magnificent. This is a book from an author who focused on world-building rather than on character development.
I found the style of the faint, courier typeface of the imitation typed documents hard to read. Also, the captions on the drawings are small and pale. This interfered with my enjoyment of the book. There is a growing incidence of visual impairment in children: designers and publishers should take this into consideration when planning their books.
The imprint information inside the back cover is in a coloured font almost the same tone as the background, rendering it illegible. Any librarian attempting to catalogue this book will need to refer to copy cataloguing sources to obtain the necessary information.
This book will be a popular gift for the young Indiana Jones in your life.
Reviewed by Julie Thorndyke