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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
The Great Sugar War is an adventure fantasy novel for children and preteens written by Benjamin Ellefson and illustrated by Kevin Cannon. Brandon wasn't crazy about school; he was able to do his assignments and get good grades without too much effort, but he'd much rather be outside playing with his friends. Today was no exception; he had been preoccupied watching a squirrel running through the grass outside the classroom window when Miss Carter called his name. As it was time for their history lesson, Miss Carter asked the class if anyone could tell her the cause of the Great Grayness. Those two words galvanized Brandon right out of his lethargy. His Grandpa Alvin had been instrumental in overcoming the snakes that ran the Color Factory, which had been the root cause of the situation. Miss Carter angrily interrupted him. She was tired of his fanciful imagination. Everyone knew that the goblins from beyond the Crimson Mountains caused the Great Grayness. When Brandon countered that the story of the triumph of the Crimson Guards over the goblin king was a lie told by the king, he got in big trouble. After all, you could go to prison for calling the king a liar, Miss Carter retorted. She sent him off to see the principal and said his parents would be notified to pick him up there. Brandon hated being sent to see the principal. He was a terrifying man who blustered and bullied. Brandon suddenly had an idea -- he'd go to Grandpa Alvin's house and get him to speak to Miss Carter. Surely she'd believe Grandpa Alvin. But when he got to his grandfather's house, no one answered the door.
What is truth? Why do kings and other leaders lie, and how is a child raised to tell the truth to comprehend the inconsistency between official pronouncements and reality? The Great Sugar War raises some troubling questions about politics, ethics and even the treatment of children in today's schools. I was aghast when the truant officer binds Brandon's wrists and ankles with nylon restraints, criminalizing, in effect, a child for truancy, but I've also seen accounts of far more egregious treatment of children in schools by the police officers who are now a common sight in some school systems. As to Brandon's confusion over the willing disbelief of his teacher and fellow students of the truth, the account of Colonel Droww to Brandon’s ancestor, Otto, exposes it rather clearly, if not entirely satisfactorily. Later on, when the great war between the Kingdom of Shapes and the Kingdom of Colors is revealed for the sham it truly was, Droww continues: “During a war, people are consumed by their own fear and anger. They follow anything their leaders tell them. War is not about defeating an enemy. War is about controlling your own people.” Heady stuff for a children's book, but sadly relevant in today's world.
Ethics aside, The Great Sugar War is a rousing action and adventure story that features Brandon's Great-Great-Grandfather Otto and the role he plays as Colonel Droww's assistant during The Great Sugar War. This is the second in Ellefson's original and compelling fantasy series, following his novel, The Land Without Color. The author gives enough background for the new reader to enjoy this book on its own, but I strongly recommend reading the first one as well. Both books are thoughtful, exciting and a lot of fun to read -- and they most eloquently warn against the dangers of eating sugar and junk food. The Great Sugar War is most highly recommended for children, preteens and those adults who still hunger for a bit of thought-provoking fantasy.