Camellia the Bald

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
March/April 2003

By E. W. Zrudlo, Reviewed by Jessica Sashihara

Camellia the Bald book cover

Camellia the Bald by E. W. Zrudlo; Coastal Carolina
Press: Wilmington, North Carolina, 2001; $9.95

If someone asks Jon o’Gates a question, he usually talks too much and tends to digress, which means he gives unnecessary information and gets off the subject a lot. Jon o’Gates is a character in a fascinating book called Camellia the Bald.

I can relate to Jon o’Gates because sometimes at school, when I’m asked a question, I’ll give an answer and then tell a story about something I did or experienced that has little to do with the question. Once in fifth grade, my class was discussing a book and soon, because of me, the whole class was itching to tell their own dog stories because I told mine. Jon o’Gates also likes to wander off, daydream, and frolic about before doing what he’s supposed to be doing. He puts off until tomorrow what he could be doing today. So do I. My second-grade teacher once said that she wanted to “light a fire under me.” Sometimes when I’m stuck on a homework assignment, I’ll inch off my chair and go into the living room to play piano or watch TV. Well, back to the book.

I have two questions for you. What would you do if you were sent away to live with your aunt, a real-live witch, and while exploring her house found an entrance to another world by climbing through a plain old mailbox? Would you be happy, scared, excited? Well, that’s what happened to young Susan Camellia Cardiff, the main character in Camellia the Bald. She found herself lost in a place she didn’t know existed. To make matters worse, she was supposedly the new queen and, therefore, it was her job to slay Glydfen—the almighty, merciless, firebreathing dragon who flew around terrorizing everyone and everything in sight. The land Susan discovered was called Ebal. Ebal was a “queendom,” not a kingdom. It was called this because only women could rule.

Most adventure stories have one hero. This one had three. They were Susan, Jon o’Gates, and Piotr. Susan was a brave, understanding girl. At home, her family thought that her mother was going crazy. She would scream and hit Susan for no reason. Susan went to her aunt’s house to get away from home, and almost forgot all her pain and suffering. In Ebal, she went on a dangerous and daring adventure to the Old One.

Jon o’Gates went with her as a guide. Together they ventured through dark forests, murky lakes, and even broken stars. With every step of the way, the hikers discovered more about themselves. By working together and trusting one another, they restored peace to Ebal. That reminds me of my soccer team. Have you ever heard the expression, “There’s no I in team”? It’s true. You can’t win a game alone. It’s a team effort. You have to trust the defense to shield the goal, the goalie to stop any shots, and the offense to communicate, dribble up the field, and score some goals. But I’m digressing again. Jon o’Gates was my favorite character. Not only does he give too much information that is unnecessary and off topic like me, but he is always willing to help and is a loyal friend. He could cheer Camellia up when she was scared or sad. If it weren’t for his calmness and quick thinking around the man-eating dragon, he and Susan wouldn’t have survived their long and frightening adventure.

Piotr was a gruff old man who spent his life cooped up at home studying an old book about the rules and traditions of Ebal called The Histories. Piotr helps the two travelers on their long journey and gives them numerous tips that later come in handy. In the end, Susan and Jon teach Piotr how to have fun again, and enjoy life once more. Their adventure reminds me of when I moved to my new house from another town. At first, it was scary. Eventually, I relaxed and started to have fun exploring and leaping in and out of all our new rooms. Then I met new people, saw new places, and discovered new opportunities all waiting for me to arrive. There, I did it again. I started off talking about a great adventure with a dragon, and ended up talking about moving. How did I do that?

Camellia the Bald Jessica Sashihara

Jessica Sashihara, 10
Martinsville, New Jersey

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