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Basil & Dahlia

A Tragical Tale of Sinister Sweetness

Illustrated by Shane Cluskey

About The Book

Two orphan siblings with truly terrible luck battle an evil celebrity chef in this uproarious illustrated middle grade romp with the dark humor of A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Beast and the Bethany.

It’s hard to imagine things could get worse after one’s parents die in a greenhouse explosion. But that is precisely what happens to Basil and his younger sister, Dahlia. They escape from the social worker who wants to split them up to different foster homes by jumping off a moving train, only to find themselves wounded (Dahlia) and bedraggled (Basil) and without a soul to care for them. What’s more, they’re lost in the wilds of New York City.

Famished and alone, they wander into Cravings, the delectable bakery owned by Laurel Fox, disgraced celebrity chef with a soft spot for poor, hungry orphans. When she offers them luxurious accommodations and all the éclairs they can eat, Basil and Dahlia dare to hope their luck has changed at last. But the savvy reader will know it can’t be as simple as all that! Laurel Fox is out for redemption, and she’ll do anything to get the sinister secret ingredient she requires.

About The Author

Photograph © Joy McCullough-Carranza

Joy McCullough writes books and plays from her home in the Seattle area, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is the author of the middle grade novels Across the Pond, A Field Guide to Getting LostNot Starring Zadie LouiseCode Red, and Basil & Dahlia, as well as the middle grade series Team Awkward, and the picture books Harriet’s Ruffled Feathers, Champ and Major: First Dogs, and The Story of a Book. Her debut novel Blood Water Paint was longlisted for the National Book Award and was a William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist. Visit her at

About The Illustrator

Shane Cluskey is an illustrator from Galway, Ireland. His work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators and by American Illustration, and he has worked with such clients as the New YorkerThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. His favorite dessert is a warm chocolate brownie covered in ice cream (without the secret ingredient). You can see more of his work at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (May 21, 2024)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665944250
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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Raves and Reviews

“A quirky, lightly magical mystery filled with mouthwatering food and sinister adults. . . . McCullough's character work shines: the titular heroes struggle with guilt over their parents' demise even as they consistently support each other; the creative yet dastardly villains are only outshone by the everyday workers who step up to help. . . . Stark, stylized illustrations from Cluskey (The Sackville Street Caper) are perfectly creepy and help set the unconventional tone."

– Shelf Awareness

"[A] bitingly humorous and appealingly weird action-adventure narrative studded with surreal illustrations by Cluskey."

– Publishers Weekly, 4/29/24

“A cross between ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ this is a whimsical and suspenseful story about two formerly homeschooled orphans. . . . Fans of Lemony Snicket and Western fairy tales will devour this darkly humorous read.”

– School Library Journal, 5/1/24

“ . . . the piquant tale is rich in twists made all the more delicious by Cluskey’s retro-style illustrations and the narrative’s mildly gothic tone.”

– Booklist, 3/1/24

"[A] comically arch third-person narrator. . . a pleasingly over-the-top villain surrounded by ridiculously self-serving sycophants . . . edgy, stylish, black-and-white illustrations that have a retro feeling and enhance the drama. A deliciously satisfying romp."

– Kirkus Reviews

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More books from this author: Joy McCullough