Adventure, humor and suspense

Teacher, translator and novelist Lila Konomara crams a lot into her new children’s book «Stis 11.11 akrivos» («At 11.11 Precisely»), published by Papadopoulos. There’s adventure, humor, suspense, a quest that will test the young hero and make him look beyond his own concerns for the first time, as well as a wealth of information about plants, animals and birds in Greek myth and tradition. The story begins with Nikos, a rather self-absorbed boy, trying to find some way to wriggle out of eating the lentils his mother has cooked him for lunch. He tries to dump his serving back into the saucepan but has to retrieve it when his mother – who, like most mothers, has eyes in the back of her head – guesses what he’s up to. Nikos is in a bad mood anyway, because his best friend is ill and he has nobody to play with at school. He is feeling mighty sorry for himself when a magical moment intrudes. A little girl appears on the window sill and introduces herself as Daphne, or Laurel – a plant that grows in his garden and whose leaves are used in the hated lentil dish. Though doubtful at first of Daphne’s existence, then suspicious of her sanity, Nikos allows himself to be drawn into an adventure which tests his intelligence, courage and endurance and makes him more aware of the people around him and their needs. Daphne leads him into a hollow walnut tree in the garden next door. The two children step inside and onto an immensely long slide that carries them into the bowels of the earth. On the way they meet creatures from myth and legend, such as the Dryads – Erato, Figalia, and Eurydice – believed by the ancients to protect trees. Not all the characters Nikos meets will be as gentle as these fairy beings, however. Some are comical, like Mitsos Skordatos, the tough-guy garlic, and Rodelios Krommidas, the grouchy onion; many are immersed in their own concerns, but all have a part to play in the three trials Nikos must endure if he is to find the promised treasure. His fear mounts as he realizes he may never escape, but the experience of making an effort, and of cooperating with others to achieve an aim, bring him back to the surface a nicer boy, if not one who can ever look on lentil stew with relish. An absorbing tale for children over nine, it is slightly overburdened at times with information, but satisfyingly scary before the happy end. Appealing illustrations by Daniela Stamatiadi highlight the fantasy elements in the story.