Len Bailey,
(Starscape, 2005)

I can't quite make up my mind whether Len Bailey's Clabbernappers is an inspired masterpiece of children's literature in the tradition of Lewis Carroll or ... a bit of a dud. The story revolves around the adventures of junior Oklahoma rodeo champion Danny Ray. While attending a carnival, Danny Ray goes through a door marked ADVENTURE and finds himself with a brand-spanking new coil of blue rope in the kingdom of Elidor.

Elidor is the oddest place that 11-year-old Danny Ray has ever been, where chess piece ships sail the Checkered Sea, where the king's guards are lizards and tiny dragons fly about carrying gossip -- and where the queen has just been kidnapped by the evil King Dru-Mordelach. It's up to Danny Ray to get her back.

Clabbernappers (the name refers to the creatures that drive one of the chess piece ships) is related in an engaging, almost conversational style, as though told to a young cowpoke over the evening campfire. The chess piece ships automatically bring Carroll's Alice stories to mind, but there's also a flavoring of L. Frank Baum's Oz stories in here, too.

The dud question relates to the few logical gaps in the story. The biggest one for me was Danny Ray's acceptance of his shiny new blue rope -- of which there is no mention for several chapters, then suddenly, it's Danny Ray's "thrillium" rope, but no explanation of what "thrillium" is or how Danny Ray knew the substance's name is offered.

So while Clabbernappers may not be a masterpiece, its lively style and action-packed story will undoubtedly appeal to the youngsters for whom it was written -- though their parents may roll their eyes a bit when reading with them.

by Laurie Thayer
31 December 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.