A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Forest of Wonders is the first book in the new Wing & Claw fantasy series by Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard). It's a great fit for animal-loving kids who are just digging into fantasy, but expect to run across some hurt and mistreated animals. Raffa, a gifted young apothecary, tries his best to cure a bat and some raccoons injured by large birds. Large birds also attack people and try to peck out eyes and deafen them with piercing cries. Other than that, violence is mild -- apothecary ingredients are cleverly used instead of weapons to fight soldiers in pursuit. Raffa is the kind of main character who makes some mistakes and lets curiosity get the better of him at times but shows profound respect for the healing profession and all the creatures in his care.
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What's the story?
Raffa and his cousin Garith, apothecaries in training, are so excited when Garith's father tells them they're invited to move from their rural settlement into the city of Gilden to work directly for the Chancellor. Raffa is ready to pack his bags until his mother and father change their minds suddenly and mysteriously. Raffa is heartbroken when Garith and his uncle leave without him and consoles himself by taking care of a gravely injured bat. He expertly uses a special vine he finds in the FOREST OF WONDERS to help cure him. It seems to be working but with the strangest side effect: The bat is asking for his favorite insect snacks by name. Raffa and his father start experimenting with the vine to see what else it can do, but the first trial proves disastrous; Raffa's hand cracks and throbs in pain until his father finds an antidote. Raffa is worried about what else the plant can do and that his cousin Garith took some with him to Gilden. What's worse, his parents don't seem worried enough. So Raffa sneaks out at night with his talking bat to head to the big city and warn him. In Gilden by himself, Raffa begins to realize just why his parents turned down such a prestigious job. His uncle and the Chancellor have some big secrets to hide.
Is it any good?
Young animal-loving fantasy fans will find much to enjoy in the Wing & Claw series start, including talking animals, a brilliant young apothecary and his resourceful friends, and a mysterious forest. The beginning of the book is a little misleading, with the setup of the Forest of Wonders. Readers will be expecting to get lost in that magical place with the main character, Raffa. But instead of heading back to the forest, Raffa goes to the big city -- a place with even bigger secrets but not wondrous ones. It's rather hard to fathom why the bad guys are acting the way they are; there aren't a lot of hints for the reader to go on.
However, Raffa's escapes from soldiers using his stash of apothecary ingredients are as clever as the new friends he meets. Both Kuma and Trixin are strong girl characters whom readers will immediately root for. And after an exciting cliffhanger, kids will clamor to see what's next for Raffa and all his friends, human and furry, in Book 2.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Raffa and Kuma's thoughts on how animals should be treated. Are they similar to yours?
Why is Garith so jealous of Raffa? Do you ever feel that way when a friend scores better than you on a test? What do you do with these feelings? Does it make you work harder or treat the friend differently?
Will you read the next book in the series? What do you think will happen?
- Author: Linda Sue Park
- Illustrator: James Madsen
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Harper
- Publication date: March 1, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 352
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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