The Phantom Unicorn (City Kids #4) by Zetta Elliott, Charity Russell (Illustrator)

Paperback, 112 pages
Published November 4th 2017 by Rosetta Press
Source: Author

It’s lonely being the new kid on the block, especially when your family is “unique.” Q has left California behind to start a new life in New York City with his two moms and baby sister. He can’t wait for his dad to come up for the weekend, but the visit is canceled when Q’s father gets arrested while attending a peace march. A special gift from his father leads to adventure, however, and Q is astonished when a medieval tapestry comes to life while he’s visiting a nearby museum. With the help of two new friends, Q must face his fears and battle a villain who has waited five hundred years to destroy the world.

Like The Ghosts in the Castle, The Phantom Unicorn uses the central narrative as a vehicle to discuss contemporary and relevant issues. These issues include feelings of alienation that often children hailing from non-traditional backgrounds struggle with and the discrimination faced by black children, especially the boys. Q has two mothers and a dad and he is used to being looked at oddly no matter where he goes. Being half Asian and half black and having a name most people can’t pronounce, he has had more than his fair share of being the odd one out.

Moving to a different state means a different environment, school, and classmates. This is difficult enough but when his dad is unable to keep his promise to come visit, Q has just about had enough of everything and everyone. At home he has to compete with his baby sister for attention so he was counting on his dad’s visit to relieve his feelings of loneliness.

His dad is not able to make it but his dad’s gift arrives and that gift leads him to an adventure Q is not likely to forget for a long time. The Phantom Unicorn has the traditional elements of a fantasy adventure story that will be familiar to readers of the genre. What sets it apart and makes it special is its awareness of the contemporary world and the issues currently being faced by children in marginalized societies. POC children will find mirrors in all of  Zetta Elliott’s books but this series especially centres the problems and themes important to them without alienating others.

As I said about The Ghosts in the Castle, I believe The Phantom Unicorn to be potentially invaluable in classrooms and libraries. The City Kids series will prove to be essential springboards for engaged discussions about a plethora of subjects such as social activism, nonconventional family units, and discrimination. Lest you think, however, that the books are little more than didactic volumes, please know that the stories themselves are strong and feature well developed characters living complex lives.

You really need to get these books.