The Unicorn Rescue Society : The Madre de Aguas of Cuba – Adam Gidwitz & Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Hatem Aly

 The Unicorn Rescue Society : The Madre de Aguas of Cuba – Adam Gidwitz & Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Hatem Aly.  Dutton Children’s Books, 2020. 9780735231429

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Genre:  Adventure Fantasy

What did you like about the book?  In the middle of science class, Uchenna and Elliot are whisked away by the eccentric Professor Fauna and set off (with their pet Jersey Devil) for Cuba, after reports that the legendary sea serpent the Madre de Aguas has disappeared.  Cuba is suffering from a drought, and many believe that the serpent protects the waters on and surrounding the island, so the Unicorn Rescue Society is on a mission to find her and restore the water supply.  After lessons about the history and culture of the country from their friend Yoenis and his mother Rosa, the trio heads out to investigate.  Things soon get more complicated when they realize that their archenemies, the Schmoke Brothers, might be behind the whole thing.

This is a fun, quick read that hits on some fairly heavy issues such as the impact of corporate greed on water conservation and other ecological concerns.  Uchenna and Elliot learn about the influence of European colonialism on the native Taíno of Cuba and the historical implications of the Soviet Union and the Castro era, and how all of those threads tie together into the cultural and economic status of present-day Cuba.  All of these important topics are dealt with in kid-friendly language, in such a natural way that young readers will absorb the information as they follow along on the adventures of the Unicorn Rescue Society, without really realizing they’ve been taught a lesson.  Co-author Otheguy is a Cuban-American historian; her contributions to the book bring authenticity to the setting and the cultural details, while Gidwitz continues to write believable dialog and action despite the unbelievable premise.  Aly’s illustrations enhance the story just enough without distracting.  There is a subplot in which Professor Fauna visits a library in search of old documents detailing the origins of the Unicorn Rescue Society; it seems out of place and does not get resolved, presumably setting the stage for the next installment in the series.

Anything you didn’t like about it? At several points I wished for a Spanish dictionary in the back.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Fans of the previous books in the series, (though it’s not necessary to have read the others) will enjoy this one.  I would actually suggest it to kids just graduating from Magic Tree House – 3rd or 4th graders who might like a slightly more sophisticated adventure but not too much harder to read.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? no

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State:

Leigh King, School Librarian, Lincoln Street Elementary School, Northborough, Massachusetts

Date of review:  7/1/2020

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