"A thousand miles ago, in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains, there lived a firework-maker called Lalchand and his daughter, Lila."
Lila, the heroine of Philip Pullman's charming fable, was, as a baby, "a cross little thing, always crying and refusing her food, but Lalchand built a cradle for her in the corner of the workshop, where she could see the sparks play and listen to the fizz and crackle of the gunpowder." Once out of her cradle, she showed a marked talent for pyrotechnics, even inventing her own fireworks with names like Tumbling Demons and Shimmering Coins. Nevertheless, when Lila tells her father she'd like to become a master firework-maker, he's shocked. Firework-making is no job for a girl, he tells her; besides, with her burned fingers and singed eyebrows, he's afraid he'll never be able to find a husband for her.
If Lalchand is horrified by Lila's ambitions, his daughter is equally appalled by the prospect of a husband. Instead, she decides to run away to Mount Merapi, where every firework-maker must go to claim some of the royal sulphur from Razvani the Fire-Fiend. Lila's adventures on the road to Merapi alternate with those of her best friend, Chulak, and his talking white elephant, Hamlet, who set out after her when they learn something that could mean life or death for Lila. Along the way, they meet pirates, wild animals, and supernatural beings of every stripe until, at last, Lila must face the scariest obstacle of all: her own fear. Pullman invests The Firework-Maker's Daughter with wit, wonder, and more than a few goose bumps. The charm of the prose is reflected in the black and white illustrations by S. Saelig Gallagher that punctuate this slim novel. Though not as sophisticated as Pullman's remarkable fantasy novels The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, this engaging story does share a courageous heroine, an exciting adventure, and a singular philosophy that ties everything together in a deeply satisfying denouement. (Ages 9 to 12) --Alix Wilber [via]