The Unicorn Rescue Society, The Creature of the Pines (Book 1)

Illustrated by Hatem Aly

“Brand-new friend. Terrifying teacher. Mythical animal. Breaking and entering. First day at a new school.” (132)

On his first day of school, Elliot Eisner is whisked away on a field trip to the New Jersey Pine Barrens. He and his new friend Uchenna Devereaux – a cool-looking rockstar who always has a song to sing – walk through the woods led by the strange teacher Professor Fauna. The children discover Jersey Devil, a small mythical creature, entangled in a balloon ribbon. Released, the creature follows the children and then escapes into the city. Elliot and Uchenna team up with Professor Fauna to save him once more, this time from the greenhouse of the evil Schmoke Brothers. After they accomplish their mission, Professor Fauna invites the children to join the Unicorn Rescue Society, which works to defend the world’s mythical creatures.

The Creature of the Pines is an animal fantasy for elementary grades that brings together themes of wildlife conservation and adventures involving mythical creatures from various world cultures. The book specifically deals with the challenges of rescuing wild animals–after the children save and feed Jersey, it will never return to the wild (120)–and how we should respond to the threat of species extinction due to human expansionism. The Creature of the Pines advocates for youth activism showing how Elliot and Uchenna have agency and can choose to take action to protect the natural world. The connection between extractivist capitalism and biodiversity loss is drawn explicitly as the main antagonists, the Schmoke Brothers, are greedy billionaires who always look for opportunities to exploit nature and animals. In this particular story, the reader is called to discover the creatures that live close to their home and consider what they can do to help restore nearby nature environments. From there, the greater call to global action for nature comes in the form of Professor Fauna and the secret Unicorn Rescue Society. Its members, children and adults, work together to fight against the forces driving animal extinctions biodiversity and habitat loss across the planet. Readers of all ages are called to join the Unicorn Rescue Society to protect mythical creatures and all life.

The author’s choice to focus on mythical creatures in the series adds magic and adventure to the story, but the questions the book raises and the threats to wildlife it describes, apply full to real-world animals. Choose specific episodes, for example, the rescuing of Jersey from the balloon string, to help your students draw real-world connections to animal and ecological conservation. The Creature of the Pines is an engaging and accessible text that could provide an entryway into classroom discussions about endangered species, conservation, and environmentalism.

©2023 ClimateLit (Shelby Dale DeWesse, with later edits by Alexandra Delacruz, Kai Resler, and Marek Oziewicz)

See The Unicorn Rescues Society series for more reviews.

Publisher: Puffin Books, 2019

Pages: 167

ISBN: 9780735231726

Audience: Little People (4-7), Questers (8-13)

Format: Novels

Topics: Animals, Biodiversity Loss, Collective Action, Conservation, Endangered Species, Environmental Destruction, Extractivism, Habitat Loss, Human Expansionism, Mythical Creatures, Nearby Nature, Youth Climate Activism