Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy
By Ruthy Ballard
Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy is a middle grade read about a lucky young boy who lives in a lovely house by the sea in California. He lives in his own world of make-believe, frustrating parents who think he should ground himself in reality instead, developing ambitions that will lead him into a successful adulthood.
Despite their admonitions, Frankie persists in his fantasies while skating through daily life until a crack in his bedroom ceiling transports him to a two-mooned planet called Urth, where he is presented with an adventure beyond even his wildest dreams.
The first thing to note about Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy is that it draws readers into the action with a personal touch that represents an unusual invitation to participate in Frankie’s experiences: “…since he’d never missed a meal, he didn’t know what real hunger was like, so he felt sorry for himself, spinning a story that a forest that had felt so wonderfully homey at first had unfairly betrayed him by failing to provide dinner at the expected hour. You can decide at this point whether you want to give Frankie the peanut butter sandwiches you brought with you into this chapter. But I advise against it, because someone else in this story will soon need them much more than well-fed Frankie, and you may wish to give them to her instead.”
The second strength to his story is also evident early in the tale: Ruthy Ballard’s ability to create compelling, unusual, humorous descriptions to provide kids with visual embellishments worth laughing over: “An eerie kind of twilight gradually took the stars away as he sat among the purple fruit, staring at the sky and fantasizing about food. The constellation that had looked like a pile of steaming spaghetti topped with a healthy dose of grated Romano cheese, blinked out. The circle of stars shaped like a gooey pizza faded away. And in the east… well, what was in the east requires its own paragraph to describe.”
As Frankie’s story unfolds, preteens receive an engrossing adventure that takes Frankie’s proclivity for participating in the unbelievable to new levels. In this world, Frankie really comes into his own strengths.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, his parents are anguished over his disappearance, and an innocent man has been arrested in the matter. Frankie’s absence is making as much of an impact on his former life as his presence is in this strange new world.
Kids receive a thoroughly engrossing story powered by these descriptions, dilemmas on all sides, a sense of humor, and an adventure beyond Frankie’s ability to imagine.
Other quest and confrontation stories proceed in predictable manners. Not Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy. This lends it a unique, powerful voice that produces a standout in the genre of children’s fantasy. The epic adventure flushes out Frankie and his family’s concerns with the dilemmas of alien peoples who have as much at stake in Frankie’s presence or absence as does his family back home.
Unpredictable, fun, and action-packed, Frankie and the Gift of Fantasy is a gift that is hard to put down, highly recommended beyond the advanced elementary to middle grade readers it is likely to reach.