Meet Mama Inez and her dog, Toby, a large coconut brown animal.
They’re gatherers, who invite people and groups of people to their home at The End of The Word in an alternate contemporary universe.
By telling their stories, their guests balance the out-of-sync world, bringing back into equilibrium.
Toby and his mistress are the central characters in Serendipity Market by Eisenhower Public Library’s Young Adult Librarian Penny Blubaugh, a resident of Chicago’s Northwest Side.
Blubaugh admits she would very much like to live at The End of the World like her characters, in a house with a roof shaped like a witch’s hat, surrounded by icebergs and polar bears.
Blubaugh’s Mama Inez and Toby are shape shifters, too. They can become part of the stories, transforming themselves into icicles, perhaps, or leaves.
The stories their guests tell are variations on well-known fairy tales — “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Elves and the Shoemaker” and more.
Blubaugh earned her master’s degree in fine arts in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College. She has published articles and author interviews in professional journals before, but Serendipity Market is her first novel. “Cinderella,” the book’s first story, won Blubaugh an award from the New England Science Fiction Association.
“When I think about the book, I think about fantasy, magic and the tea the characters all drink,” Blubaugh said. “I got the idea from a picture book I wrote during my master’s degree program.”
Four years ago, Harper Collins, the publishing firm, asked for submissions.
“I sent a novel, and they rejected it,” she admitted. “Two years later, they bought it. I’ve got a second book under contract, too.”
Serendipity Market has been published by Harper Teen, a Harper Collins division. It will be released March 3 at a cover price of $16.99.
Blubaugh suggests picking up a copy at an independent bookstore — Barbara’s Bookstore, 1100 Lake St., Oak Park; or Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St., in Chicago. Copies will also be available at the Thought Bubble: 2009 Teen Lit Fest from 2 to 4 p.m. March 14 at the Eisenhower Public Library, 4613 N. Oketo Ave., Harwood Heights.