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Dr. Ruth (Ruthy) Ballard
Author, Illustrator
Elvia and the Gift of Passion

Children/Young Adult; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Create)

Adventurous Elvia Hill is fed up with her overly cautious parents, who lost her older sister, Jane, to cancer. They protect Elvia, never allowing her to take risks or do anything fun. She feels trapped, but when her mother wins a lottery—round-trip airline tickets for a wildlife safari—her luck improves. Her parents are worried for her safety in the African bush, but Elvia’s thrilled, so they take her along anyway, hoping for the best.

To the Hills’ horror, their worst nightmare unfolds. Elvia disappears, apparently snatched and eaten by a lion! A massive search ensues, involving a bushman tracker, a delusional lion expert, a witchdoctor, a sham DNA testing company, and a kind, local couple who run an organization called Parents of Swallowed Children and are keen to help.

The search comes up empty, though, and for good reason: Elvia’s not where they think she is. She’s on a distant two-mooned planet, instead, having a grand and glorious adventure, cruising aboard a luxurious submarine with a queenly “uppy” and a lively sailor-boy-pirate with the unlikely, but fun, name of Rats!

At first, Elvia’s escapade is so exciting that she forgets about home. But when a terrible crisis unfolds aboard the boat and she’s the only one who can save the day, she must bravely face the same terrible fear that her parents have been avoiding since Jane’s death. And she discovers, too an even more powerful, singular emotion that opens her heart and transforms her troubled family forever.

A young girl is snatched across space and time from an African safari resort to the fantastical, watery world of Urth in the exciting fourth installment of Ballard’s Tales by Moons-Light middle grade series. Elvia, who has the “gift of Passion,” is magically transported to a place called Finding Island, where an “uppy” named Lacie greets her and informs her that she has a mysterious mission to complete, after which she’ll be returned safely home. As they leave the island, Lacie cares for Elvia in her own slightly shallow and airheaded way, obsessing over fashion and trying to understand Elvia’s feelings and needs using the book of color palettes she carries with her.

The fun continues from there as Elvia accepts Lacie and this new world without a second thought, enjoying the luxurious accommodations and the free gifts that are offered to support “findlings” like herself, while also submitting wholeheartedly to her assigned tasks, like learning to scuba dive as a safety precaution before being allowed on a submarine trip. Elvia is a charming, curious, and friendly child, who embraces even the most abrasive locals. By contrast, Lacie is kind-hearted in her own way, but flighty and inconsistent except in her passion for clothing and fashion, an obsession that lands her in trouble in the end. Elvia’s other main companion, Rats, is another human who chose to stay on Urth after his mission was completed, and his “gift of Breaking Rules” and scampish personality are a wonderful foil for Elvia’s earnestness.

Chapters featuring Elvia’s worried parents and their search for her after she’s assumed to have been snatched by a lion add a slightly heavier touch to the lighthearted story without weighing it down too much, and the book’s overall silliness is well balanced to keep a young reader entertained and delighted. This is an adventure, and a heroine, that will delight middle grade readers.

Takeaway: The irresistible adventures of a young girl spirited away to a two-mooned planet.

Great for fans of: B.B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers, Elle McNicoll’s Like a Charm.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A