The story begins one night in Mexico:
"Unknown to her, Susana had a night visitor. Outside, a great bird with big feet was flying in as silently as an owl. It circled the pink house.
After a long journey, the strange creature came to rest on a limb of the old pepper tree in the patio of Susana's house.
A bird, did I say? Yes and no. Its wings and feathers flashed orange and red polka dots like bloodshot eyes--and green spots and purple ones, too. You'd think the night visitor had the allover measles. Now, think of teeth as sharp as broken crockery. And a full moon of a face, with cunning eyes protruding like a frog's." (page 2)
This creature is the Dream Stealer, with his lasso ready to capture dreams and take them far away. He's supposed to take nightmares, but has grown tired of being frightened. Now he is making off with happy dreams, like Susana's own dream of being reunited with Consuelo Louisa, her best friend.
Consuelo and Susana had had an argument. A bad one. And then Consuelo had moved away, without saying goodbye, leaving Susana alone and grieving. So this dream that was stolen from her, jerking her out of sleep, was more precious than the Dream Stealer could have guessed. Now Susana wants it back. Even if it means confronting the Dream Stealer, and setting out on a scary journey to the castle where all the stolen bad dreams are kept.
The Dream Stealer turns out not to be that villainous, but the nightmares trapped in his castle are plenty scary! Fortunately Susana is smart and plucky enough to save the day, and the Dream Stealer itself when the nightmares get loose...and she finds her lost dream.
The Dream Stealer has a lovely fairy tale quality to it--the brave girl confronting dangerous fantastical creature, the quest and safe return. It's a satisfying story, but it is, I think, a much better read-aloud book than one a child would read alone (unless the child in question is a fan of illustrated fairy tales). There are consistent authorial intrusions, which I found distracting when reading it to myself, but much less so when reading it to my children.
The illustrations by Sis, deceptively simple black and white drawings that pack lots of subtle atmospheric punch, didn't quite complement the book, at least in my mind. Fleishman goes all out (maybe even a bit too much so) to make it clear that this is a book set in Mexico, and Sis, not so much (like the castle on the cover, which doesn't look Mexican at all to me, though I'm prepared to be proved wrong). You can see some of the illustrations yourself, and read quite a bit of the book, here.
Here's a vague uneasiness I have about this book. One the one hand, I think it's great to have a lovely fairy tale story set in Mexico, featuring a brave Mexican girl (in as much as brave Mexican girls in fairy tales are rather thin on the ground). And this is a fine story--I'm glad it's in the world. On the other hand, I think I would feel more celebratory if I had more assurances of authenticity. But that reservation may be unfair, especially in the case of book such as this, which is an original fantasy rather than a re-telling...
Here's another review of The Dream Stealer at Eva's Book Addiction