Lalani of the Distant Sea


This isn't just a story; it's an art form.  This is the kind of writing and storytelling that make adults love children's literature.

Twelve-year old Lalani lives on an island with her mother who has a job as a mender.  She mends the clothing and the fishing nets of the men who go out to fish and bring back food.  That's where the story begins.  Woven from centuries of Filipino folk lore and thousands of years of human oppression and hope, Lalani's journey is going to begin in her own village.

Life is hard in the village.  Lalani and the other townspeople are ruled by the menyoro, chosen as a leader and a healer, but actually a man of no power, no healing arts, no empathy and little integrity.  The girls and women are servants while the men fish and a chosen few are sent out on Sailing Day to find something better.  None ever return.  Lalani's father was one of the chosen and his boat set sail never to be seen again.

Lalani and her mother live in a house with Drum and his son, Kul, When Lalani's father died, Drum claimed the house and the women as his own.  He's an angry man who chooses to rule with fear and violence.  It's an airless world for the women.  They, of course, have their secrets and their hidden abilities, but their lot in life is an empty joyless survival.

The day comes when Lalani's mother pricks her finger on her needle while she's mending and comes down with the sickness that has proven fatal to so many women before her.

Searching for a way to save her mother, Lalani, raised on the wings of story and legend, remembers a place called Isa and all it is supposed to promise. Isa, most likely to the north, is said to hold everything you need, every answer to your every question, and everything you ever wanted.  She decides to choose to be courageous.  Believing that she alone is responsible for the ills that have befallen her mother and the people of  Sanlagita, Lalani decides she must atone.  It rests to her to discover if Isa really exists and it rests to her to find a cure for her mother, a yellow flower that could heal.

So much of this story is richly told metaphor.   It holds so many of the deepest fears and hopes of children.  The ones who are told they won't amount to anything come to believe it.  When things go wrong and life gets really dark, children blame themselves.  If only they were more of this or better at that, if only.... then things would be better.

Prepare to be immersed in a world of powerful creatures and forces who are ruled by their own grief.  Sanlagita feels familiar as a fishing town on an island somewhere a thousand miles from your home but the birds, the magical creatures that inhabit the sea and the islands, the danger and the power they wield will feel like the same invisible forces that hold you down and bring you and yours misfortune.

You'll be rooting for Lalani but mostly you'll be enthralled bybthe amazing world building.  This feels like the gods and goddesses at play on a dark day.  Supernatural power that can snatch a life, deny a dream. and open the door to the purest of hearts.  Is there room for hope, faith, perseverance and perhaps happily ever after? Great for our Investigators. 400 pages               978-0062747273                Ages 9-13

Keywords:  fantasy, courage, island, loss, gender roles, mother/daughter, nature, friendship, finding yourself, self image, self acceptance, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, folklore

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge,


Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut fantasy novel is a gorgeous, literary adventure about bravery, friendship, self-reliance, and the choice between accepting fate or forging your own path.

When Lalani Sarita’s mother falls ill with an incurable disease, Lalani embarks on a dangerous journey across the sea in the hope of safeguarding her own future. Inspired by Filipino folklore, this engrossing fantasy is for readers who loved Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Disney’s Moana.

Life is difficult on the island of Sanlagita. To the west looms a vengeful mountain, one that threatens to collapse and bury the village at any moment. To the north, a dangerous fog swallows sailors who dare to venture out, looking for a more hospitable land. The women live in fear of the deadly mender’s disease, spread by the sharp needles they use to repair the men’s fishing nets. And what does the future hold for young girls? Mending and more mending.

When Lalani Sarita’s mother pricks her finger and falls ill, she gives twelve-year-old Lalani an impossible task—leave Sanlagita and find the riches of the legendary Mount Isa, which towers on an island to the north. But generations of men and boys have died on the same quest—how can a timid young girl survive the epic tests of the archipelago? And how will she manage without Veyda, her best friend?

Newbery Medalist and New York Times–bestselling author Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut fantasy novel is inspired by Filipino folklore and is an unforgettable coming-of-age story about friendship, courage, and identity.

Readers will love meeting Lalani, an ordinary girl on an extraordinary adventure; and Veyda, the best friend she leaves behind to ignite a revolution. Perfect for fans of Lauren Wolk’s Beyond the Bright Seaand Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon.--from the publisher

400 pages               978-0062747273                Ages 9-13

Keywords:  fantasy, courage, island, loss, gender roles, mother/daughter, nature, friendship, finding yourself, self image, self acceptance, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old

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