The Search for Delicious


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Year Published

Book Review

The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt is a stand-alone book.

Plot Summary

When the earth was young, a narrator says, creatures — including dwarves, woldwellers and mermaids — cared for various aspects of the planet. A dwarf discovered an underground spring in an area previously too dry for habitation. Delighted, the dwarves built a house over the spring and blew a special whistle to open and close its door.

Over time, the spring turned into a lake, and the dwarves were pleased when a mermaid, Ardis, came to live there. They made her a doll and put her in charge of the whistle.

Humans began to arrive and build kingdoms. The dwarves hid away in the mountains, and the woldwellers in the forest. A human man took Ardis’ whistle, trapping her doll inside the spring house. People wrote songs about Ardis and the other creatures in the years that followed, but most forgot about them or considered them myths.

Twelve-year-old Gaylen’s story begins many years later. His guardian, Prime Minister DeCree, is creating a dictionary at the king’s request, but the royals can’t agree on a definition for the word delicious. The king says apples are delicious. The queen argues Christmas pudding works better. All the others in the court have different ideas, and everyone is angry. Gaylen initially laughs when DeCree worries this situation could start a civil war.

The king sends Gaylen to the villages to ask each person what food exemplifies delicious. The queen’s evil brother, Hemlock, wants to rule the kingdom. He rides ahead of Gaylen and stirs up the villagers. Citizens begin to fear if the crops they grow are not deemed the most delicious, they will be out of work.

Consequently, Gaylen meets with increasing opposition as he tries to poll the people. He finds a legendary woldwaller in the forest, but the supposedly-wise, 900-year-old creature is already aiding Hemlock. The woldwaller says it doesn’t really matter to him who wins.

Further on his journey, Gaylen meets a traveling minstrel who sings a song about Ardis. The minstrel is so interested in Gaylen’s poll that he promises to find him again someday and hear the result. He also gives Gaylen a family heirloom, a key on a chain. He hopes it will bring the boy good luck.

Gaylen is forced to flee from the next village and hides in a cave. It turns out to be a dwarf mine. There, he sees a carving of Ardis. It includes a key like the one he received from the minstrel. He realizes the key and Ardis’ lost whistle are one and the same.

Armies have begun forming, but Gaylen continues his ride. He grows discouraged and wishes he could live among the creatures rather than the humans. Hemlock and his men begin damming the lake to keep people in nearby towns from receiving water. Gaylen grows discouraged and tells himself none of this is really his concern. Then he realizes many people he’s met along the way will suffer from this lack of water if he doesn’t try to do something.

Just as Hemlock begins closing in on Gaylen, the boy reaches the river and sees Ardis. He returns her whistle and begs her to break down the dam. The king and his army reach Hemlock and prepare for battle. Gaylen fears Ardis won’t keep her promise, but she breaks the dam just in time to send Hemlock into the water. His own men later kill him. The king and all his men drink thirstily from the river, and everyone decides there is nothing more delicious than cool water when one is thirsty.

In an epilogue, the minstrel comes to find Gaylen 13 years later. The prime minister tells him that Gaylen is married, has a child and is the mayor of another city. He urges the minstrel to come in so he can tell Gaylen’s whole story. He says it would make a pretty song.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The minstrel hopes the key will bring Gaylen good luck.

Authority Roles

DeCree lovingly takes in the orphaned Gaylen as his own son. The king, queen and other royals argue about which food is most delicious. Hemlock lies to the villagers and tries to block their water supply in his efforts to seize the kingdom.

Profanity & Violence

The king and his army reach Hemlock and prepare for battle. When Ardis breaks the dam, Hemlock is swept into the water. His own men later kill him.

Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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