Rooted in Filipino folklore, Lalani of the Distant Sea is the story of Lalani Sarita and her fantastical journey to save her mother and all the villagers who live on the island of Sanlagita.
Sanlagita exists at the foot of the wrathful Mount Kahana. The island’s long drought has caused all medicinal plants to stop growing, and rations are scarce. As a deep lover of stories, Lalani knows the island’s superstitions and legends—especially that of Ziva, a courageous young maiden who stowed away on a ship bound for Mount Isa, “where all of life’s good fortunes seem to be.” Years ago, Lalani’s father sailed away toward Isa as well, but like all Sanlagitan sailors, he never returned.
When her mother pricks her finger and falls ill, Lalani, remembering the ancient legends, knows that the juice from a flower on Mount Isa can save her mother and perhaps rescue the entire island. And so Lalani steals a boat and begins her quest.
Lalani’s atmospheric journey is filled with mythical creatures, deadly plants, island spirits and unexpected friends. The way is unclear, death is always near, and Mount Kahana casts a dark shadow. Lalani is weary and confused, bloody and battered, starving and dehydrated, but in these moments, readers see her bravery, humility and deep empathy.
Newbery Medal winner Erin Entrada Kelly’s latest begins as a story of darkness, but beyond the shadow of Mount Kahana is light overflowing. Lalani reminds us that strength and skill may not be able to defeat darkness and restore light—but kindness, integrity and steadfast love can.
In the words of another Newbery winner, Madeline L’Engle, “Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving,” and this one does just that.