XANDER AND THE RAINBOW-BARFING UNICORNS: Fairies Hate Ponies & Who Turned Off the Colors? by Matthew K. Manning & Joey Ellis
XANDER AND THE RAINBOW-BARFING UNICORNS is a sweet, silly children’s series written by Matthew K. Manning and illustrated by Joey Ellis; the two most recent entries are Fairies Hate Ponies (2019) and Who Turned Off the Colors? (2019). The series is marketed toward kids in the 8-to-10-year-old range, though some of that is going to be dependent upon the reading proficiency and intestinal fortitude of the kid in question. Be prepared for plenty of gross-out humor and copious amounts of technicolor vomit issued by unicorns afflicted with a zombie virus.
Fortunately, the unicorns themselves appear to be caught in a state of semi-decay, with various body parts missing and bones exposed, but no further deterioration. They smell terrible, of course, but living at the town landfill provides both olfactory camouflage and a reliable source of food, since the now-zombified unicorns adore eating garbage. Eating candy, their normal diet back home in the “faraway, magical world called Pegasia,” results in spectacular gouts of, well, rainbow-colored barf. Banished from Pegasia after contracting this mysterious virus, Cradie, Blep, and Ronk have all sorts of adventures with their human friend/caretaker, sixth-grader Xander Stone, who works at the Montgomery Apple Orchard and holds weekend magic shows — the centerpiece of which are the unicorns, costumed and made up as regular ponies who are, themselves, costumed as unicorns.
In Fairies Hate Ponies, a new transplant from Pegasia arrives at the orchard: an “insect fairy” named Willibop. Willibop is looking for a new home for his species, one that isn’t so saturated with cuteness and unicorns, and Earth seems like the perfect place. Unfortunately, Willibop and his relatives aren’t interested in being good neighbors, and Xander has to find a solution that will suit everyone’s best interests. In Who Turned Off the Colors?, a stormy day turns Xander’s magic show on its ear, and the next day, he’s turned as gray as “an old black-and-white TV show.” Even worse, it seems to be contagious, and not only are people turning shades of gray, but they’re craving overcooked beets and boiled potatoes. What’s a kid and a trio of dimension-hopping zombie unicorns to do?
Fairies Hate Ponies is filled with good cautionary lessons for kids about tolerance and respect, environmentalism, and making a stand to protect a community and one’s friends. The lessons aren’t heavy-handed, but are integrated into the story-telling in a way that kids should find accessible and instructive. The emphasis is still firmly on fun and friendship, though. Who Turned Off the Colors? is purely fun, with lots of Three Stooges-style hijinks among the unicorns as they attempt to hitchhike across town, climb ladders, hide from Xander’s parents and the rest of the town’s residents, and do their best to save the day. The ending is surprisingly bittersweet, reminding readers that Cadie, Blep, and Ronk didn’t come to Earth’s dimension by choice.
Ellis’ illustrations are cheerfully round and loose, using bright pops of color to draw the eye toward specific points of emphasis or interest among black-and-while illustrations in both books. (So, so much rainbow vomit.) The unicorns’ individual states of decay are impossible to ignore, and their personalities are completely distinct and evident in each appearance on the page. Cradie is agreeable, the de facto leader of the trio, and the most physically intact; Blep enjoys yelling and eating rotten apples and appears to be cobbled together from multiple unicorns; Ronk can only speak his own name and is little more than a vaguely unicorn-shaped pile of goo. Xander, with his thick locs and homemade unicorn-barf-proof gear, is immediately recognizable as a hard-working kid, as well as a thoughtful and good friend. He’s got a crush on Kelly, the niece of the woman who owns the orchard; he’s got attentive and caring parents; he’s resourceful and creative without seeming too mature or too childish. Manning does a good job of capturing that in-between-ness of pre-adolescence, when a kid might be embarrassed by well-worn cartoon-pony bed sheets, but still hangs on to them. And each book concludes with a character spotlight, a glossary of words like “contagious,” “reservoir,” “dimension,” and “landfill,” and some groan-worthy jokes.
How long should a unicorn’s legs be? Long enough to reach the ground!
For the right reader, XANDER AND THE RAINBOW-BARFING UNICORNS is going to be a lot of fun, and as each book is a stand-alone containing its own adventure with a quick recap of how this all started, kids should be able to drop into any of the six books (thus far) with little to no confusion. I’m looking forward to sharing both Fairies Hate Ponies and Who Turned Off the Colors? with my nephew — once I get his parents’ permission, of course!