The Grotto Under the Tree by John A. Theo Jr.

The Grotto Under the Tree by John A. Theo Jr.
Publisher: Astraea Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Short Story (139 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Sebastian and Sara mistakenly descend into a mystical land where elves, mermaids, gnomes and other mythological creatures live. The two discover they have stumbled into an ancient battle between these fair folk and evil creatures called the Kylo. Their guide on this journey is Capri, an elf lord who is on a quest to find his lost tribe. The Kylo chase the children and Capri in his flying galleon north into the Arctic Circle where they find the most unlikely ally. During the final battle the children learn about sacrifice, love and ultimately forgiveness.

Sebastian and Sara discover a hidden grotto when they climb into a hole left after an ancient oak tree is destroyed. The two fifth graders are best friends, and when Sebastian gets it into his head to explore, Sara reluctantly follows. They find themselves in another plane of existence where elves, mermaids, gnomes and other mythological creatures live. This is a magical tale of friendship and love, of trust and believing, and of sacrifice and redemption.

John Theo has crafted an enjoyable story. Sebastian and Sara are typical ten-year-olds. Sara is cautious but she also is the athletic one. Sebastian is very bright and very curious, and his curiosity leads him into trouble. He is clumsy and he really doesn’t know the meaning of the words “do not touch.” They are helped on their journey by an elf lord named Capri. I found that it was easy to identify with both Sebastian and Sara, but I never really felt as if Capri were real.

While this was an engaging story, I found the dialogue to be flat and stilted in places, lacking the ring of truth. However, the story teaches important lessons about the sanctity of life and the need for faith and trust. It just was a bit formulaic for my tastes. Sebastian embodies the old saying that a child shall lead them as he learns to trust. “That is the essence of faith, child. When things seem at their worst that is when you must believe more than ever.”

The setting for the novel is fun and very imaginative. It begins in Massachusetts, but soon Capri has them sailing, both in the water and in the air, on a live ship. The descriptions of the grotto as well as the ship are fascinating. I think many young readers will enjoy this tale, reveling in the mysteries which unfold. And they will also discover answers to some age old riddles as they travel with Sebastian and Sara into the Arctic Circle.

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