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by Rolli; Milan Pavlovic (illus.)

With some fantasies you’re invited to wade in, discovering the principles, nature, and backstories of the invented world step by step. Others are best approached by diving in at the deep end. Kabungo is the latter sort; take a deep breath and do a cannonball.

JuneBfYP_Kabungo_CoverThe first sentence tells you all you need to know: “My friend Kabungo lives in a cave on Main Street.” How Kabungo came to be in the cave, the nature of her family, where she gets her food (not to mention dental care) – all of these considerations are gloriously ignored as we jump into a series of episodic adventures.

Regina writer and cartoonist Rolli takes full advantage of cave-dweller clichés, but plays with them: Kabungo makes necklaces out of teeth, but rather than the fangs of sabre-toothed tigers, her strands of gleaming gnashers are composed of dentures she has purloined from bedside tables at the local nursing home.

Beverley, the 10-year-old narrator, takes on the responsibility of protecting Kabungo, and trying to teach her about concepts such as private property, hygiene, and literacy. Beverley (“Belly” to Kabungo) is an amusing tour guide, given to off-centre similes (a dusty old mansion is like “a cookie that looked just wonderful till you dropped it on the carpet”) and moments of deadpan: “I gasped. That’s generally what I do when something surprises me.”

Most fun of all is Kabungo’s private language. Bouncy with exclamations and neologisms, it’s a kind of poetry and a fine vehicle for conveying emotion. Kabungo wants a tiger and Beverley finds her a ginger cat. Kabungo is beside herself: “Ya, ya! Targur! That! Me! Best try, Belly! Oh, Belly, best!”

The short episodes would be delicious read-alouds for a lucky school class, especially if the teacher were inclined to ham it up