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Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters
Illustrated by Choong Yoon
Cover design or artwork by Choong Yoon
Formats and Prices
- Hardcover $16.99 $17.99 CAD
- ebook $6.99 $8.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 5, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Xander Miyamoto would rather do almost anything than listen to his sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Stedman, drone on about weather disasters happening around the globe. If Xander could do stuff he's good at instead, like draw comics and create computer programs, he might not be counting the minutes until the dismissal bell.
When spring break begins at last, Xander plans to spend it playing computer games with his best friend, Peyton. Xander's father briefly distracts him with a comic book about a samurai warrior named Momotaro that springs out of a peach pit. Xander tosses it aside, but Peyton finds it more interesting.
Little does either boy know that the comic is a warning. They are about to be thrust into the biggest adventure of their lives a journey wilder than any Xander has ever imagined, full of weird monsters. To win at this deadly serious game they will have to rely on their wits, courage, faith, and especially, each other.
Praise forXander and the Lost Island of Monsters:
"With phantasmagorical environments, flying white rats, a fire-breathing bird, a giant, a snow demon, and other creepy things, there is abundant action. This retelling of a Japanese folktale celebrates courage, friendship, and pride of heritage, while featuring unforgettable characters and leaving readers eager for the next installment in this new series." –Booklist
"A breathless retelling of the Japanese legend of Momotaro, this is an Asian version of Percy Jackson; adventure fans will be waiting for more." — Kirkus
"Though the story of Momotaro is familiar to every Japanese child, Dilloway seamlessly weaves necessary background information into the fast, action-filled plot. Xander, a Japanese American boy, hardly knows the legend himself, so readers learn along with him. Xander's candid and straightforward first-person narration will instantly resonate with middle grade readers, as will his story's themes of self-acceptance and friendship. Yoon's comic-style illustrations evoke Xander's talent for drawing and bring welcome visual interest for reluctant readers. This fast-paced fantasy adventure with a foundation in Japanese culture is perfect for fans of Percy Jackson." — School Library Journal
Text copyright © 2016 by Margaret Dilloway
Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Choong Yoo
Cover illustration © 2016 by Choong Yoo
Cover design by Joann Hill & Sammy Yuen
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
For Elyse, Ethan, and Kaiya
“See first with your mind, then with your eyes, and finally with your body.”
A Hereditary Book on the Art of War, 1632
The pale old man stands in the middle of the rainy street and watches the boy through the school windows. The classroom faces the road, but it’s hard to get a clear view inside. That’s fine. He doesn’t want the boy to notice him. Not yet.
The boy is in front of the class, one hand fidgeting with papers, the other dipping into his pocket to jingle imaginary coins, then combing through his hair. The whiteboard behind him seems to engulf him, each word on it at least the length of the boy’s arm. The old man’s used-to-be heart drops in sympathy. He’s supposed to be twelve, this boy, but he’s no bigger than a seven-year-old.
That’s him, all right, the man thinks. Blue eyes, straight black hair. Like his father and his grandfather. But this boy is frightfully weak. The pale man shakes his head. Can the boy handle this?
The old man limps toward the school, hoping for a better view. A monster-size pickup truck passes through him. Neither the pale man nor the driver notices.
The man presses his transparent face to the windowpane. That’s better. Now he can see and hear. But none of the students see him—the rain sluices through the old man’s face, making it look like a puddle gathered on the glass.
The boy is back at his desk now, supposedly paying attention to the lecture. Which he most definitely isn’t. He’s drawing. Like he always does. The pale man shimmers in the rain like a waving piece of plastic wrap.
That teacher sounds like a robot. Why, the old man almost drops off just listening, and he’s already dead. So the old man can’t blame (What is his English name? So hard for him to remember…) Xander for being bored. Xander Musashi Miyamoto. The boy’s named after Musashi Miyamoto, one of the greatest samurai and artists who ever lived. The old man calls the boy Musashi in his head. Always has, ever since Xander was born.
We have no choice. He is the one. He must rise. The pale man exhales a breath that would have sounded like a sigh, had he any lungs.
He goes back to sit on the bench again, waiting for his grandson to notice him.
I shuffle through my notes once, twice, three times, feeling sweat starting to trickle down my sides and from my palms. I’m standing in front of twenty-five of my fellow sixth graders, in the middle of giving my report, “Snow in Ecuador: How Climate Change Affects the Rain Forests,” which is a really great title, if I do say so myself.
But I’ve lost my place. Not just a little bit. Completely. I can’t remember the last thing I said or what I’m supposed to say next. It doesn’t help that I basically copied and pasted my entire report out of Wikipedia and some random guy’s blog without reading any of it. I meant to go over it this morning, but I forgot because my friend Peyton got a new app on his phone and we were playing it right up until the bell rang. The worst part is, the app—Xoru, Master of Magic—wasn’t even very good. What a waste of time. Whoops. This project is for extra credit, which I desperately, desperately need in social studies, and I’m about to blow it.
I cough and clear my throat. Rain beats in a steady thumthumthum against the windows. The whole class shifts around, impatient, starting to whisper. Clickclickclick. Someone’s taking cell phone photos. I look up, and, sure enough, it’s Lovey, the most misnamed person on the face of the planet. The forbidden phone peeks up over the top of her textbook. She didn’t even bother to turn off the sound. Sheesh. She looks straight at me and giggles. Fantastic.
Mr. Stedman doesn’t seem to notice. He lets out a sigh. “Xander, please continue or sit down. We have a lesson to do.”
I feel like I’m standing in front of the class in my underwear. I look down at my legs, just to make sure. Yup, pants are on. I put my hand in my pocket and rock back and forth in my Converse, stare at the white toe caps. Come on.
Finally, inspiration hits.
“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth the subject of climate change.” I sweep my hand around like I’m Abraham Lincoln. The whole class jerks upright, suddenly awake. Peyton flashes me a thumbs-up from his seat in the back. “They kept talking. Nothing much happened. We still drive cars and make smog, and now there’s, like, a ton of snow in Ecuador. So, basically, that’s it. Let’s all stop climate change. Together. Stop using plastic, people. Wake up!”
The class applauds, and I take a little bow and run back to my seat with a grin plastered across my face. There. I’ve done it. Score. I mean, I might not have gotten full points, but that was good for at least five, right?
Mr. Stedman rolls his eyes. “Thank you, Mr. Miyamoto.” He shakes his head so I can be sure he doesn’t mean it. “Everyone, turn to page one hundred and fifty in your textbooks.”
Page 150 again? We’ve been on this page for a week. I flip open the book and start making a list in my head. Things I’d Rather Be Doing, in order of preference:
1. Playing computer games
3. Drawing pictures of computer games
4. Getting a cavity drilled
5. Walking down the street with no pants on
6. Watching that wedding-dress show with my grandma
And then I tick off the minutes, like this. Like I’m a freaking prisoner in a medieval dungeon cell serving a two-million-year sentence, scratching the years into the wall with my bare fingernail:
Five minutes of class, done! Ten, done! And I’ll keep going on and on and on, until I have twelve sets—it’s a block day, which means that some classes are double periods. Today Mr. Stedman has the Social Studies block.
And then the bell rings, and the torture starts all over again.
For some reason, Social Studies seems twice as long as, say, my computer class, the one class I actually enjoy. Why is that? Why do things you love seem to take a shorter time? Seems like the opposite should be true.
Mr. Stedman has started his lecture, but it’s the day before spring break, and, therefore, nobody’s paying a bit of attention. Everyone’s dreaming about sunshine and ice cream and warm beaches and Easter candy. But does Mr. Stedman care? Heck no. And we’re all just staring at him, counting the black hairs coming out of his zombie-white forehead (he doesn’t have that many hairs—they look like my number countdown, kind of) and dodging the spit flying off his lips (never sit in the front row of Mr. Stedman’s class).
“Blah blah blah global warming. Blah blah blah fire at the South Pole. Blah blah blah tropical hurricane in Maine. Blah blah blah super hurricane-blizzard in New York.”
I feel my brain quiver in my skull, probably wishing it could break out and run free. I yawn and stare out the window at the road. Rain’s pouring down in sheets, and I hope it lets up before school ends.
The best thing about Social Studies is where the classroom is located—the windows look out onto the street. Sometimes a car goes by, but that’s about it. Today just one old man sits at the bus stop. More boringness. What else is new? This place where we live, Oak Grove, is a one-horse town, way out in the boonies of San Diego, so horribly far away from the actual city of San Diego that nobody even calls this San Diego anymore. They call it “backcountry.” Or the mountains, where people go when they want to see some snow and pretend they have a real winter, even though they live in Southern California. It’s so small that grades K–8 are all at the same lower school, and the entire sixth grade is in this classroom with me.
The old man outside doesn’t seem to mind the rain. Which is good, because it’s raining big, fat drops, more like a waterfall. It’s supposed to rain for the next three days, on and on. So much for sunshine and warm beaches.
It hasn’t rained like this in years. Not since…well, maybe back when I was just a little kid. When I’d tried to run away from home.
Most four-year-olds wouldn’t be ambitious enough to take off down a mountain road, looking for their mom. Especially not on a day when cartoons got interrupted with the loud squeal of an emergency signal. “Flash flood warning in the mountains,” a bored robotic female voice had said. “Severe weather threat until five o’clock.” I had shrugged and turned off the TV, not knowing what a flash flood was. Just that it was raining a lot, which was no big deal to me. My grandmother had talked about how it was the wettest day the county had seen in two decades, during an already wet El Niño rainstorm year, when everything in California stayed green through the summer instead of turning into brown tinder.
But I was a super-sneaky four-year-old, the kind who’d climb the cupboards to steal a cookie while my grandma was in the bathroom. The kind who could blame the cookie theft on the dog and get away with it. The kind who knew which floorboards squeaked like wounded rats when you stepped on them. The kind who knew to turn the doorknob forty-five degrees to the left, then pull it hard so it opened smooth and quick. My grandma hadn’t known I was gone for hours.
Mom had left us only about a month earlier, and it felt like two years. All Dad said was, “She had to go on a trip.” But when your mom takes a hundred percent of her clothes with her and removes her entire Precious Moments figurine collection from the glass curio cabinet, you can kind of figure out what the truth is. Even if you are only a little kid.
The day I ran away, the ditch by the street had filled with roaring water, and the sidewalk was nothing but a muddy bank. I watched the water carry sticks and bits of trash downhill. This way, Xander, the ditch river seemed to say. Follow me and you’ll find your mother. So I starting slogging through the mud, my shoes making a squinchsquinch sound.
I guess I was thinking that Mom would magically drive up in her green car, her red-gold hair shining in the sunless afternoon, and take me back home. I didn’t know then how long a walk it was down the mountain, and I was shivering because I hadn’t remembered a jacket. (Even though I was Sherlock Holmes sneaky, I was still only four.)
I wanted Mom back for a lot of reasons, but the main one was so she could sing me my bedtime song. She was the only one who knew the words to my favorite, “All I Ask of You,” from Phantom of the Opera. (Hey, it’s not my fault—she got me hooked on it by singing it to me when I was a baby. I haven’t listened to that soundtrack in years.) My dad only sang me “Twinkle, Twinkle,” and my grandma only knew songs from the 1940s. I wanted my regular bedtime song. When you’re a tiny kid, that kind of thing is as important as looking for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
I had followed the ditch river for what seemed like hours. The rain was falling so hard I could barely see. The runoff stream grew wider and wider and rose until it filled the whole road and stole away bigger things, like trash can lids and a bike tire and branches.
Finally, I reached a driveway at the bottom of a hill, my short legs feeling like overcooked noodles. The ankle-deep water stole one of my shoes. As I watched it get swept away, I got a little scared for the first time. I climbed to the mailbox and sat on a boulder next to it, feeling as soggy as a book dropped into a bathtub, and started waiting.
I’d just sit right there until Mom came by. No matter how long it took. Like the story of that dog in Japan who hung out at the train station waiting for his dead master that they made into a really sad movie I’ll never watch, because I hate sad movies.
A woman with short blond hair, in T-shirt and jeans, had walked down the hillside, I guess to get the mail. She jumped about a mile into the air when she spotted me. “I thought you were a rock!” She bent to peer into my face. Her eyes were the shade of new grass, with smile lines fanning out around the edges. “Aren’t you the Miyamoto boy from next door? What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for my mom,” I said.
“Your mother?” The woman bit her lip, and I knew that she knew my mother was gone. “I’m Mrs. Phasis. Why don’t you come on inside, and we’ll call your grandmother?” The woman held out her hand. She seemed nice enough, but she wasn’t my mother, so I said no.
“No?” Mrs. Phasis looked as if she couldn’t believe I’d defied her.
“No,” I repeated.
“Okay, then.” She picked me up like a sack of rice.
“Nooooo!” I screamed, and I kicked her and scratched her arms, but she didn’t drop me. She just hurried into the warm house. Then she plunked me down in front of the TV and wrapped a fluffy blanket around my shoulders to stop my shivering. “Wait here, okay? Peyton, be nice to this little boy.” The lady disappeared.
A boy about my size was perched on the floor, a big purple bowl in front of him. His golden hair stood up from his scalp in a crescent—sort of a natural Mohawk—and his eyes were a bright blue in the cloudy light. He cocked his head at me as he looked me up and down. Then he grinned and dipped his face into the bowl, his pointy nose and pointy chin disappearing behind the purple.
At first I didn’t understand what he was doing. Then he straightened up, cheeks bulging, white kernels of popcorn sticking out of his mouth. “Want some?”
“Yes, please.” If Peyton shoved his face into a bowl like that nowadays, I’d be too grossed out to share, but we were only four back then.
He pushed the bowl toward me, and I grabbed a handful. We watched the rest of the show in easy silence. It was some program about the jungle, and I felt calmer than I had in a long time. And then my grandmother showed up to haul me back home, apologizing profusely to Mrs. Phasis.
So something good came out of that experience. That was the day I met Peyton. It was probably also the last day we were the same height.
I’m still sorry I tried to kick his mom. But how was I supposed to know she was helping me?
And, no, my mom hasn’t come back. We haven’t heard from her in eight years. Not a phone call or a letter or an e-mail or a carrier pigeon. I never tried to look for her again.
I glare at the clouds outside my classroom. Rain, rain, go away, I think at them. Come again some other day, when I don’t have to walk home from school.
I open my notebook stealthily, because Mr. Stedman is known for freaking out if he thinks you’re not worshipping him. Especially me. Just because I once forgot to take a test because I was watching big pieces of hail hit a parked car outside and wondering if the windshield would break and how fast the ice would have to be falling for that to happen.
Do you want to know what my brain looks like? A browser with twenty-five different pages open at once. I flip back and forth between them and open even more before I’m done reading what I meant to read. And then I forget what it was I was looking for.
My teachers have tried to get Dad to medicate me. Every year since first grade, and I’m in sixth now. My report cards say stuff like Unfocused. Daydreams. Draws on his math papers. It makes me feel like I’m broken somehow. A computer with a virus in it. And you know what? Knowing that my teachers think I’m broken does not make me want to come to school more.
I don’t think I’m broken. I just prefer to do my own thing instead of the lame things the teachers want me to do.
Dad says that’s just how I am, a freaking creative genius (well, he doesn’t actually use the word freaking, which he would call “a non-academic term”), and they all can just deal with it. “I know medication benefits many children,” Dad always tells them, “but Xander doesn’t need it. It is not medically necessary. He behaves appropriately at home. The difficulties arise only in certain classes, and so he does not meet the criteria for diagnosis.”
Earlier this year, when Mr. Stedman pressed the issue, sending home note after note and making Dad come in multiple times, my father finally got angry during a conference. He stood up to his full height, and his eyes turned into polar ice caps. “You want these kids to grow up into unthinking cubicle monkeys. But that’s not going to happen to Xander, I can tell you that much,” Dad had said. “You bring this up one more time, and you’ll be very sorry.”
I was sort of impressed. I’d never seen Dad threaten anyone. The worst thing he ever did was write a slightly annoyed letter to the newspaper for misspelling something. You folks really need to invest in a copy editor, he wrote. I wondered how Dad would make Mr. Stedman sorry. Probably sit him down and lecture him so hard. Maybe even wag his finger at him.
For a second I wondered what my mother would have done about Mr. Stedman, if she were here. She had a real temper—Dad said it came with the red hair and the Irishness. I remember her curls flying all around her head, like a flaming halo of doom, when she got mad. Mom got angry about a lot of stuff—one of my last memories of her is Mom yelling at Dad about how he made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “You put the peanut butter on after the jelly, not before! Otherwise, the peanut butter sticks on the knife and gets in the jelly jar!”
It seemed like a really funny thing to get so worked up about. I asked Dad about it once, and he said she wasn’t mad, just passionate. “Passionate about peanut butter and jelly?” I asked. “It’s only a sandwich!”
“Passionate about everything.” Dad got a big smile on his face. “Besides, it wasn’t the sandwich she was angry about.” He shook his head and looked gloomy. I changed the subject.
That makes me think that my mother would have given Mr. Stedman more than a lecture. She probably would have given him a solid right hook to the jaw.
Anyway, the threat worked. Mr. Stedman’s nostrils flared as he sputtered and combed his fingers through his balding hair. Dad’s glare bored holes into my teacher until Mr. Stedman finally looked away.
This whole school pretty much hates my family now. Especially Mr. Stedman.
I strategically place my thick textbook in front of my notebook and start drawing while I stare at Mr. Stedman like he’s the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen. If I don’t draw, I will literally fall asleep, because Mr. Stedman’s voice is like Ambien. And if that happened, he would truly go nuts.
I consider what to draw. Self-portrait? Too boring. Just straight black hair in a style that’s almost a bowl cut, because Grandma, Obāchan, cuts it for me. (Dad keeps promising to take me to a real barber, but I’m not holding my breath.) Gray-blue eyes. Skin I can never find the right crayon color for anyway, even in Crayola’s “Multicultural” collection. It’s a shade with too many pink undertones to be yellow and too much yellow to be pink.
A mix. A blend. A mutt. That’s me.
“Yesterday, a volcano in Hawaii froze,” Mr. Stedman says.
I pause. Huh. Now that’s interesting. Idly, I draw sharks ice-skating on frozen lava covering the ocean. Weird climate things have been happening for the past two years. Pretty much every day, some news anchor interrupts my grandma’s Wheel of Fortune show to tell us about snakes fleeing a rain forest, or enormous tuna jumping out of hot ocean water, or people in Florida having to buy ski jackets for a sudden blizzard.
Climate change. I guess maybe it is a problem. But it’s all happening far away. Too far away for me to worry about.
On my left, Clarissa taps my arm. She grins, showing two rows of braces with hot pink rubber bands. She points to my notebook. “You should put that into the game,” she whispers.
I shrug quick, feeling my face go all hot. My hands start sweating. She tucks her long, curly black hair behind her ear and wiggles her eyebrows at me. I’ve known Clarissa since kindergarten. We’ve watched each other pick our noses. I don’t know why I’m so nervous around her now. Once, I called her a hobbit—I meant it as a compliment, because hobbits are the coolest creatures ever and she’s the only girl still shorter than I am—but she socked my arm so hard it left a purple bruise for two whole weeks.
The game she’s talking about is what we’re working on in computer class. We play this game called CraftWorlds, where you can build your own, well, worlds. Anything you can make with pixels. Since you actually have to know some coding to change the game, the teacher’s letting us use it in class.
Not to brag, but I’m the king of the computer class. It’s the one place where I pretty much rule over all the other kids. The characters I program look better, jump higher, and can do more than anyone else’s. I’m famous for it around here.
Clarissa smiles at me again and I smile back, and Mr. Stedman shoots a glare at me. What, it’s illegal to smile now? Mind police. Mr. Stedman sticks a pencil behind his ear, near the ring of hair around his bald spot. “Find two articles about global warming and summarize them.” He writes the assignment on the whiteboard like we’re morons. Summarizing is the most boringest thing in the free world. Why do I have to tell you exactly what I read? I know what I read; you know what I read. I want to tell you what I think about it.
I look down at my notebook.
My sharks aren’t there anymore. In their place there’s a drawing of an ape and a human mixed together, except it has a long lizard tail studded with spikes, like a dinosaur’s, waving in a muscular curve. His skin is hairy but wet-looking, in shades of red and purple and iridescent green.
I suck in a quick breath and look at my black-ink pen, then back down at the colorful drawing. What the heck?
I put my fingertips on the drawing. I could be wrong, but it kind of feels like the ink is rising up from the paper….
I yank back my hand and shake my head to clear it.
The creature’s eyes stare back at mine. They’re like a shark’s—no white, no iris, just all black pupil.
I have the urge to set the notebook on fire. Or bury it someplace. I’m frozen. I can’t take my eyes off it.
The creature’s smiling at me with serrated yellow teeth, and I know there’s all kinds of gross bacteria on them, like a Komodo dragon who poisons his prey. A pink-red tongue forks into three snakes at the tip. The tiny snakes hiss their displeasure. SSSsssssss.
It’s a drawing. It can’t make noise.
But I hear it, the same way I can hear Mom calling, “Xander,” sometimes as I’m waking from a deep sleep.
The hair on my neck stands straight up, and my stomach drops like I’m falling into a pitch-black and cold endless pit. Then my stomach feels like I’ve been hit by a really hard ball. I gasp, trying to get air into my lungs.
“Are you okay?” Clarissa whispers.
I nod once and shut my notebook fast.
Suddenly Mr. Stedman’s forearms, covered in wiry black hair, appear by my face. SMACK! He hits the desk with his metal ruler so hard the fillings in my teeth rattle. “Xander! This is not art class.”
I shrug, trying to hide how much he startled me. “Of course it’s not art class. This school doesn’t have an art class.”
Clarissa giggles softly. Mr. Stedman’s nostrils flare. He yanks my notebook away, turns to a blank page, and puts it back on my desk. He narrows his eyes. “You’re on thin ice, Mr. Miyamoto.”
“Like sharks by the frozen volcano?” I ask before I can help myself. Whoops.
This time both Clarissa and Peyton, who’s sitting a few rows back, snort.
Mr. Stedman bares his teeth like he’s in some teen werewolf show. I sigh and nod. “Sorry.” I manage to sound like I really mean it. And I do. I know he’s going to spend the rest of class time watching me, and I hate that.
He stalks to his desk. “Get into your groups. I don’t want to hear too much noise, or this exercise will be over.”
- "A breathless retelling of the Japanese legend of Momotaro, this is an Asian version of Percy Jackson; adventure fans will be waiting for more."—Kirkus
- "With phantasmagorical environments, flying white rats, a fire-breathing bird, a giant, a snow demon, and other creepy things, there is abundant action. This retelling of a Japanese folktale celebrates courage, friendship, and pride of heritage, while featuring unforgettable characters and leaving readers eager for the next installment in this new series."—Booklist
- "Though the story of Momotaro is familiar to every Japanese child, Dilloway seamlessly weaves necessary background information into the fast, action-filled plot. Xander, a Japanese American boy, hardly knows the legend himself, so readers learn along with him. Xander's candid and straightforward first-person narration will instantly resonate with middle grade readers, as will his story's themes of self-acceptance and friendship. Yoon's comic-style illustrations evoke Xander's talent for drawing and bring welcome visual interest for reluctant readers. This fast-paced fantasy adventure with a foundation in Japanese culture is perfect for fans of Percy Jackson."—School Library Journal
Praise for Momotaro Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters:An ALA Notable Children's BookAPALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature HonorA Nene Award Nominee (2019, 2020)
- On Sale
- Apr 5, 2016
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers