A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Despite this being fantasy, the ways of these apothecaries are rooted in numerous healing traditions.
Trust is important, for new friends and for one's own intuition. A strong plea for respect for animals resonates throughout.
Positive Role Models
The story opens with Raffa and his cousin Garith getting into trouble for their curiosity. Raffa disobeys his parents again when he sneaks away at night to go to the city, but it's out of concern for Garith. Raffa has a profound respect for animals and makes some difficult decisions in order to protect them. Garith is very jealous of Raffa but still makes a big sacrifice to help him. Two girls -- Trixin and Kuma -- are both strong and capable friends. Trixin works hard to support her family after her mother dies.
Violence & Scariness
Except for an apothecary experiment that seriously hurts Raffa's hand (until they find herbs to cure it) and birds that fly at faces and try to peck at eyes and deafen those around them with their cries, most violence is against animals. A bat and two raccoon babies are clawed by birds and almost killed; other animals are sedated and forced to do humans' bidding. A mention that an earthquake 200 years before killed millions of people. Talk of Trixin's mom dying in childbirth after losing a lot of blood.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Boys, 12 and 13, are offered and drink celebratory sips of "Appletip," with a hint that there could be a bit of alcohol in it.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.