A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hunted, by Maggie Stiefvater, is the second book in a multimedia, multiauthor series from Scholastic, similar to its 39 Clues and Infinity Ring series. There's a website where young readers can choose their own spirit animal and character identity, and enter codes from the books they read to unlock prizes and whatnot. Aimed at animal-loving tween readers just digging into fantasy tales, each book since the series debut in September 2013 -- Wild Born, by Brandon Mull -- is written by a different, seasoned children's author, with new installments appearing every few months. As in Book 1, the plot of Hunted isn't terribly complicated, and the four diverse 11-year-old characters face only mild violence -- a couple of battles kill some animals, and there's a nasty snake bite -- amid talk of an evil force from the past coming back to wage war against everyone. As the four kids start to grow into their roles as heroes, they work on trusting one another, building teamwork, and strenghtening loyalty.
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What's the story?
Meilin, Conor, Abeke, Rollan, and their beasts of legend are back at the Greencloak training facility. But there's little time for sparring. They need another powerful talisman from Rumfuss the boar, a great beast in the north, and they need to get to Rumfuss before Zerif and the other Conquerors do. With two Greencloaks assigned to aid them, they set off on horseback. Before long, they meet trouble and get separated on the road, forcing Conor and Rollan to enter Conor's home town of Trunswick alone. Unfortunately, Zerif got there first and gave the \"bile\" to Devin, Conor's pompously noble former employer, forcing a bond with an animal Devin can claim as the real hero of Trunswick instead of Conor's wolf, Briggan. But when Devin thinks the boys are safely locked away so he can run off to find Rumfuss, he fails to plan for Meilin, her giant panda Jhi, and their so-crazy-it-has-to-work rescue plan.
Is it any good?
Maggie Stiefvater was a really good pick: Nothing flags in HUNTED after author Brandon Mull started the series with Wild Born; kids go from one adventure to the next smoothly. Stiefvater even adds some popping dialogue between the diverse characters -- Meilin and Rollan's sparring is particularly fun. But it's not mindless fun, as the characters also start to develop their more heroic qualities -- Meilin shines here as she starts to understand the balance her panda can bring to her psyche. Way to get deep. The only thing missing is more exploration of the long game. There's little talk of the wider network of Conquerors: They fight. They go away again.
Of course there's a cliffhanger and of course kids will keep reading, with their own Internet-chosen spirit animal by their side. (Um, the tiger's taken. Get your own.) Lucky for kids, Garth Nix is writing Book 3. It's hard to top the spiritedness of Mogget the "cat" from his wonderful Abhorsen Trilogy, but he can try.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about this multimedia series, and the way it involves readers in various ways. Are you just reading the books, or have you been online to pick out your own spirit animal? Was it the online component that first drew you to the books, or vice versa?
Why do you think stories about magical animal companions are so popular? What other ones do you like?
Characters face tough decisions, especially Conor at the end of the book. Do you find their dilemmas compelling? Do you see similar issues in your own life?
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