PANDASTIC TIMES: The Spell From the Deep Cave

A Spell from the Faraway Jungle has sent humans all over the world into hiding in their shuttered homes. This is good news for animals all over the planet; they have come out of hiding and are enjoying a life of complete freedom out in the open. A thirteen-year-old girl named Cathrin is caught in between her joy of seeing the animals in her backyard frolicking with complete abandonment and her father’s mission to destroy the Spell. She embarks on a journey to the Faraway Jungle as she explores the cursed world and encounters the unlikely sorcerer of the Spell who is bent on avenging the killing of innocent animals—and makes a pact for a new order of life in which humans and animals live openly as good neighbors. 


"This illustrated story for young readers is a Covid-19 allegory clothed in the trappings of a sweet fairy tale..." -Kirkus Reviews

"Cathrin’s open-minded curiosity is the springboard for Naj’s broad and increasingly whimsical tale, in which the young girl and Mr. Coon (and other animals) journey separately to New York City, where they explore the sprawl of Central Park. Cathrin meets more colorful characters at the Marvelous Fulfillment Company, including a stunning android named Ms. Roxy, who appreciates the warmth of Cathrin’s worldview. “Not many humans think like you,” she tells Cathrin, “that animals have the same right to life as us.” Ms. Roxy is a remote-operated drone transformed into human shape; the real-world parallel to the Marvelous Fulfillment Company is obvious; and the characters find New York City all but deserted (“It’s the best time to buy property,” one person tells them. “People are leaving the city, scared of the Witch. You can pick up some good bargains”). These and many other details are skillfully combined into a protracted allegory for the Covid-19 pandemic at its 2020 height. Naj complicates this conceit with unexpected and deftly woven narrative threads introducing tensions between Cathrin and her parents (her father in particular), but it’s the many echoes of the pandemic—from the isolation to allusions to a Wild Market—that will strike older readers the hardest. Younger readers, who are the book’s clear target audience (those older readers will probably feel that the allegory is stretched over too many pages), will find it a funny and adventure-filled fantasy version of the strange lockdown experiences they remember." - Kirkus Reviews