Book Review: Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
A brave young girl ventures through the wilderness of her fears to rescue her family
When her cat wanders into the forest surrounding her house, twelve-year-old Bibi knows she has to go after her. Even though she’s terrified of trees—a fear known as “hylophobia”— she can’t leave her cat out there alone.
But when her cat, delightfully named Eek, climbs into a tree and Bibi follows, the tree suddenly shoots up into space. Mystical happenings occur in this magical land above the earth, leading Bibi to realize that her parents (who have been missing for months) are somehow up here too.
Author Andrew Durkin’s tremendous use of language—through generally wonderful vocabulary and specific terms related to wild animals—strengthens my confidence and enthusiasm in recommending this book for middle-graders, parents, and librarians. The vivid descriptions, charming chapter illustrations, and vibrant sound effects make it easy to imagine all the senses of this adventure—and to read it aloud, too. But maybe not for a bedtime story! There is heightened anxiety and impending doom.
When Bibi is surrounded by trees, her hylophobia symptoms increase dramatically: nausea, dizziness, and the constant reminder that it’s possible the symptoms heighten to produce a seizure. “She dug her fingernails into her palms, hoping the discomfort would distract her. Inhale, exhale.” We read Bibi’s concern as she roams the wilderness with a group of newly orphaned elk, that her parents aren’t just missing, but dead, too. Bibi and the elk are chased by giant lions with bloody teeth and paws as big as spades. At one point the lions even manage to get a hold of one of her new friends. Bibi Blundermuss describes the gruesome scene, facing the death head-on.
As Bibi learns more about the dead forest that she finds herself in and the scenery beyond it, it comes to light that her mother is a guardian of this realm. Bibi’s mother is a tree witch! “The Arbor Guardian” she’s called. Legend says that she is the only one with power to revive the dead plants surrounding the landscape, and the local animals await her return.
This information sparks an internal battle for Bibi as she wrestles with her identity: What are the secrets her parents have been hiding from her? With parents from two different parts of the world, and their family now living somewhere else, where is her home? Who is she really if she can’t answer these questions? It’s quietly heartbreaking to read Bibi’s flashbacks of conversations with her bullies and classmates at school, which clearly reveal the isolation and stress she’s been under for a long time.
The plot thickens when her mother finally appears, displaying her magnificent power to heal the land, but stopping midway to bargain with the vicious giant lions, seemingly betraying the elk and ignoring Bibi. It’s a moment so painful and confusing for the young girl that it erupts into a panic attack, then a seizure, leaving Bibi comatose. “The hylophobia had won.” She wakes up after a month, having survived on magic honey given to the elk by friendly bees, determined to figure out what’s really going on, admirably convinced that her mother is a good person and that there must be more to the story.
What follows is an adventure in trusting her clever cat, who built an alliance within the lions’ tribe, and with the bees. They race through dark tunnels and face more danger than ever.
More truth comes to light when they finally escape the caves: We learn about evil zombie trees and an enchantment that erased Bibi’s memories. We witness a major, bloodstained battle between territorial animals. And together, the three—Bibi, her mom, and her cat— must venture into a storm to rescue her dad from zombie trees.
As a reader who not only looked like Bibi Blundermuss at her age but processed her fear and anxiety in childhood the same way this brilliant young protagonist does, I’m confident this novel is going to make so many young people feel seen and understood.
While there’s a slight undertone in the messaging about medication that may leave parents of medicated children feeling wary, the overall representation of anxiety feels therapeutic. To see their fears on the page and to watch a child do her best to handle everything that comes her way with logic, kindness, and compassion, bravely continuing on to find the ones she loves (precious black cat included!), is wholly inspiring.
Bibi Blundermuss is a fantastic read with an authentic, powerful representation of the courage young girls hold inside their hearts.
Publisher: Yellow Bike Press
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction / Fantasy
Print Length: 238 pages
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