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BOWKER BookWire Review
Elliot Finley’s Jus' Plain Ole Daisy
Pamela M. Hebert
Oak Court Press, Elizabeth, CO, $14.95, paperback, (156p)
ISBN: 0-9767696-0-3

In "Elliot Finley's Jus' Plain Ole Daisy," debut author Pamela M. Hebert blends her creative imagination and captivating artwork to offer a spellbinding children's novel chock-full of magic, kidnappings, adventure, and a colorful cast of good and evil characters. At the same time, the author ingeniously manages to explore universal problems like bullying and low self-esteem that children wrestle with in school situations. Hebert's experience as an elementary school teacher and her profound understanding of children's nature and the fears that assail them are amply reflected in her enchanting and insightful tale.
 
At the start of this fantasy, we are introduced to Elliot Finley, her distress writ large on her face. It is the last day of her summer vacation and tomorrow another school year is to begin. She is overcome with anxiety because the last of her three older brothers has flown the nest and now she must go to school all alone. Going to school usually is an exciting, enjoyable event for young children, but not so for Elliot. "She thought everyone else was so much smarter because they could remember things that she couldn't." Though she loves drawing and finds science intriguing, she does not care much for reading and language lessons. Due to her poor performance in certain subjects, she develops a sense of inferiority, feels very uncomfortable being the center of attention, and generally shies away from group activities. Elliot also dreads going to school because she fears being taunted and bullied, especially by "the school tyrant," Durke Dyfan, and his nasty cronies.
 
To add to her share of problems at school, terrible tidings await little Elliot when she returns home after a depressing first day at school. Her father breaks the shocking news of her mother's mysterious disappearance without a trace. The following morning, after a fitful sleep, and worried sick about her mother, Elliot somehow drags herself to school. Her kind and attentive teacher, Ms. Nelson, who understands the issues troubling the young girl, tries to motivate her and boost her self-confidence. She suggests Elliot prepare a project on rainforests to exhibit at a science fair that is coming up soon. In addition, she presents her a drawing book to express her creativity.
 
The plot just thickens. As though the disappearance of her mother is not bad enough, Elliot's problems are now further compounded. As soon as she begins her science project in a terrarium, found by her father in a trash dumpster, some incredibly strange and bizarre things happen to her. The very moment she sketches in her new drawing book, she is mysteriously swept into a rainforest where she encounters a magnificent dragon and a mysterious shaman. "Elliot could not have been more mesmerized by this magical and mysterious world." However, little does she know how her life is going to spin totally out of control when these two fantastical creatures manifest later in her own world.
 
With the help of her friend Murray Stewart and the friendly dragon Daisy, Elliot sets out on a mission to seek some answers and trace the whereabouts of her missing mother. Why is she being chased by the evil sorcerer; is her project on rainforests annoying him? What do the strange words "Hei Ta Bebi, Hei Ka Misi" etched on the terrarium mean? Why is a big black crow following her everywhere? Is Ms. Nelson involved in these strange happenings? Alternatively, are all these events just a figment of Elliot's imagination, arising from the stress of school and her mother's disappearance?
 
"Elliot Finley's Jus' Plain Ole Daisy" is a fast paced, gripping story that will be devoured in one sitting. Young readers will find Elliot easy to relate to as she grapples with her fear of going to school. Through the gentle voice of the wise dragon Daisy, the author subtly weaves in important messages to build children's self-esteem and help them recognize a sense of their uniqueness. For example, Daisy reassures Elliot: "It may seem very real to you that you are not as smart as the others. But we all have strengths. You are smart in a different way...you have a gift that others don't." Another nugget of wisdom the dragon shares is: "We need to confront the problem in order to solve it...The greatest thing you can do for yourself is to visualize success!" While recommended for middle graders, this enchanting novel will appeal to fantasy fans of all ages. It will also be greatly welcomed by both teachers and parents.
BOWKER BookWire Review
February 24, 2006