Cover image for The unseen
The unseen
Snyder, Zilpha Keatley.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
199 pages ; 22 cm
Feeling angry and out-of-place in her large family, twelve-year-old Xandra finds a magical key to a world of ghostly, sometimes frightening, phantoms that help her see herself and her siblings more clearly.
Reading Level:
990 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 6.1 8.0 78204.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 6.8 14 Quiz: 36236 Guided reading level: X.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



A New York Times Bestselling AuthorWhen twelve-year-old Xandra Hobson rescues a beautiful wounded bird from hunters, she is convinced that the single glowing white feather it leaves behind must be magical. At school, a weird, unpopular girl seems to know something about the feather. She calls it a key. But a key to what? When Xandra tries to use the key, she becomes aware of an unseen world within our ordinary one . . .

Author Notes

Zilpha Keatley Snyder was born in Lemoore, California on May 11, 1927. She received a B.A. from Whittier College in 1948. While ultimately planning to be a writer, after graduation she decided to teach school temporarily. However, she found teaching to be an extremely rewarding experience and taught in the upper elementary grades for a total of nine years. After all of her children were in school, she began to think of writing again.

Her first book, Season of Ponies, was published in 1964. She wrote more than 40 books during her lifetime including The Trespassers, Gib Rides Home, Gib and the Gray Ghost, and William's Midsummer Dreams. She has won numerous awards including three Newbery Honor books for The Egypt Game, The Headless Cupid and The Witches of Worm and the 1995 John and Patricia Beatty Award for Cat Running. She died of complications from a stroke on October 08, 2014 at the age of 87.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-8. Twelve-year-old Xandra Hobson feels like a changeling, growing up alienated in a large family of self-absorbed overachievers. Her parents are rarely home, her siblings seem intolerable, and her position in the seventh-grade pecking order makes her reluctant to be seen with the one girl who interests her, Belinda. In the opening chapter, Xandra saves the life of an injured egret, which leaves her a feather that she believes to be magical. When Xandra learns that the magic is real and that Belinda and her father understand its power, she befriends them but later unthinkingly betrays them. Snyder masterfully portrays Belinda's sensations and emotions in the alternate world she enters with the feather's aid, and she shows how the experience subtly changes the girl's later actions. The novel is too realistically written to let the betrayal of Belinda go without consequences, but neither does the author leave readers without hope. Though less convincing than the magical episodes, the family scenes at the end bring this well-grounded fantasy to a satisfying conclusion. --Carolyn Phelan Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Twelve-year-old Xandra, the next-to-youngest member of the large Hobson family, feels ill at ease and resentful among her prodigally talented "siblings," the term she prefers ("There was something warm and cozy sounding about `brothers and sisters' that had very little to do with the way Xandra felt about [them]"). Lacking their gifts, she knows that she is nonetheless in some way special, even "enchanted." So when she rescues a majestic wounded bird from hunters and sneaks it to her secret basement animal refuge, she is not altogether surprised when the bird heals overnight and mysteriously disappears, leaving her a feather. Xandra knows instinctively that the feather must be magical. The weird girl at school, Belinda, tells her it might be a "key," whereupon Xandra's challenge becomes getting Belinda to show her how to use it. Snyder's (The Egypt Game) characterization of Xandra ranks among her most penetrating and psychologically true, and the author performs a rare feat in getting readers to identify straightaway with a not especially admirable protagonist. However, the realistic underpinnings impede the fantasy elements. When Belinda does teach Xandra to use the key, the result is nightmarish but very brief-and yet gives rise to dozens of pages of Xandra's review, speculation and almost repetitious efforts to learn more. These rhythms may be lifelike, but they distend the pacing. This story is better suited to readers whose taste runs to the ruminative, rather than those seeking a fantasy adventure. Ages 9-12. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Xandra Hobson likes to escape from her family, where she feels like a complete failure in the company of geniuses, and to embark on imaginary adventures involving magic. One day, while in the woods, she encounters real magic when she rescues a bird from some hunters; the next day, it is gone, leaving a feather in its place. A classmate, Belinda, sees it and realizes that it is a key to the unseen world and that with it, Xandra can enter a reality no one else can see. The girls become friends as Belinda and her grandfather attempt to explain the mystical world of the unseen to her. Xandra is terrified by the horrible creatures that surround her and the physical wounds that they inflict on her, unaware that they are of her own making and fed by her anger and hostility. When she breaks her ankle and is stranded in the woods, her family comes to her rescue and she realizes that her siblings aren't perfect and that she is loved. This book is a wonderful ride into fantasy, with a lot of realistic touches to think about and relationships to ponder. Readers will see, even though Xandra does not, that her perceptions about her family are all wrong. They'll also see that being so wrapped up in yourself can cause you to miss what's right in front of you. This perceptive story is not to be missed.-Saleena L. Davidson, South Brunswick Public Library, Monmouth Junction, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 It all began on a cold day in early autumn when a girl named Alexandra Hobson was playing a dangerous game in a forbidden forest. The game, about an enchanted creature, half human and half animal, had been inspired by the fact that Alexandra, or Xandra, as she preferred to be called, believed herself to be enchanted in some deeply secret and very private way. In a way that ordinary human beings could never understand or appreciate. Particularly not the humans who happened to be members of her own family and who, in spite of what most people thought, were all hopelessly ordinary. As for the forbidden forest? The forest was real enough, acres and acres of undeveloped timberland that started right behind the Hobsons' property and stretched out toward the mountains. And the forbidden part was real too. Forbidden by people who insisted that a forest wasn't a safe place for a twelve-year-old girl to spend so much time, at least not all by herself. And so it happened that on that particular cloudy afternoon nobody knew where Xandra was or what she was doing. Not that any of her siblings would have cared to know, except so that they could tell and cause trouble. In the Hobson household causing trouble for Xandra had always been a favorite pastime. She hadn't meant to go very far that day, but she'd gotten caught up in the game about being an enchanted woodland creature, and one thing and one forest pathway led to another. She'd skirted the edge of the marsh, crossed Cascade Creek by jumping from one rock to another, and kept going on, deeper into the forest. This time the game concerned a unicorn, a magical creature that could be seen only by royal princesses or enchanted people. She was closing in on the unicorn, imagining fleeting glimpses of its slender legs and glowing golden horn, when she suddenly arrived at a place she had never been before. She had come out of dense forest into a small circular clearing carpeted with a thick layer of vines and ferns and surrounded by tall overhanging trees. She was turning in a circle, admiring the peaceful beauty of the small meadowlike area, when she was startled by a sudden sound. She'd heard what? Gunfire? Yes. Definitely gunfire. Two shots in rapid succession. Frozen by surprise, Xandra was standing motionless when she became aware of a snapping, crackling sound in the branches over her head. She jumped back, throwing up her arms to protect her face, and when she took them down, there it was, only a few feet away. Lying on a mound in the center of the vine-covered clearing, very close to Xandra's feet, was a large white bird. As she stared in shocked surprise, it fluttered weakly and then lay still. At first she was too horrified and angry to be frightened or even to remember why she ought to be, completely blocking out all the times she'd been warned about what might happen to her if she went into the woods alone, particularly during hunting season. It was a big bird, its body larger than a pigeon's, but completely, purely white. Its wings, fanned out on the gray earth, gleamed like sunlit snow--except where an ugly smear of red ran along the edge of the right wing and trickled down onto the grass. Muttering, "How could they? How could anyone shoot something so beautiful?" Xandra dropped to her knees, but as she stretched out her arms the bird began to move. Lifting a sleek, tear-shaped head, it opened its long golden beak and gave a mournful cry. "Oh," Xandra gasped, "you're alive." The wounded bird raised its head on its long curved neck and looked at her. Looked long and carefully, turning slowly to examine her with one glittering, jewel-like eye and then the other. Then it crooned again and began to try to pull its long slender legs under its body. It was still struggling to get to its feet when Xandra became aware of a series of terrifying sounds: shouting voices, crashing underbrush, and then trampling feet and the barking of a dog. They were coming. The hunters were coming to get their prey. To crush it into a bag full of dead game, or to hang it from someone's belt by its long delicate legs. Scooping the white bird up into her arms, Xandra turned and ran. At first she ran directly toward home, but then, remembering something she'd read about how to escape bloodhounds, she headed for the creek. She stopped only for a moment at the rocky bank, then jumped out into the water and began to wade, working her way upstream. The streambed was paved with slippery, moss-covered rocks, and the cold water quickly saturated her shoes. The depth of the water varied as she moved forward. Sometimes it was only a few inches deep, but now and again it flowed well above her knees, soaking the hem of her skirt. The howling of the hound grew louder and as she slipped and stumbled forward, she wondered frantically if it was really true that a hunting hound would lose the scent if its prey ran through flowing water. Or was she freezing her legs and ruining her new shoes for nothing? The dog's howls grew louder and closer, and now Xandra could hear the voices of the hunters--hoarse, threatening voices, calling to each other and to the hound. Shaking, almost choking with fear, she stumbled on, slipping and sliding, now and then falling to her knees. With the motionless bird still cradled in both of her arms, she had to struggle clumsily to get back onto her feet. She was cold and soggy, her knees were skinned and bruised and her plaid skirt was wet almost to her waist before she became aware that the sounds of pursuit had begun to fade. Excerpted from The Unseen by Zilpha Keatley Snyder All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.