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Mr. Barsin's Toy Emporium
While on his birthday cruise, Jack spies a mermaid. He finds her later in the secret room at Mr. Barsin's Toy Emporium. Lily lost her sylphs when her father moved to Florida. Like her other friends, her sylphs stayed behind. But now they are looking for her in Mr. Barsin's Toy Emporium. Audrey sees herself as a noble knight, whose duty is to slay a dragon. She seeks one at Mr. Barsin's Toy Emporium, and she intends to slay it. And Nick has been lying about a bad gnome causing all the trouble at his house. He finds a really bad gnome at Mr. Barsin's Toy Emporium. Why is Mr. Barsin giving out imaginary playmates? Are they in danger?
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.25 out of 10



Plot: In addition to the usual contingent of toys, Mr. Barsin’s Toy Emporium features sylphs, gnomes, dragons and mermaids, but these beings are visible only to humans with imaginations. Mr. Barsin himself is an enigma—he doesn’t smell quite right, a red flaming aura suggests he may be part dragon, and does he really want to help Lily, Jack, Audrey, and Nick find imaginary playmates, or is he up to something darker? Lois Wickstrom, with a couple dozen children’s books to her credit, creates a story full of wonders that nonetheless manages to present some mysteries for those who visit the emporium and find the magic door that leads to a garden that simultaneously exists in spring, summer, fall and winter. As the story continues, however, it becomes fairly convoluted, and the chapter titles are cursory and unhelpful.

Prose/Style: This is a story for upper elementary school students. Some of the vocabulary will be challenging, but the somewhat complex syntax offers wonderful opportunities for an adult reader to animate the story while reading it aloud to kids.

Originality: This story has elements of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the four different children who are its main characters, and the concept of a beloved toy store to house imaginaries until their child can claim them is quite wonderful. However, the story also gets pretty dark as it develops, though it is not entirely clear to what end. The conflicts between the children and their parents are somewhat extreme in a book for pre-teens.

Character Development/Execution: Wickstrom offers the reader an interesting, unusual, and carefully delineated range of characters. Lily has been in a wheelchair since the accident that took her mother’s life; Jack has somewhat indulgent and overprotective parents and a grumpy grandma; Audrey is a bold and outspoken child of divorce who is determined to slay a dragon; and Nick is angry at his mother and just plain naughty. Mr. Barsin is a mysterious character with magical powers, and the sylphs and other imaginaries turn out to have unique personalities as well.

Date Submitted: August 21, 2021