Rise and Fall: Spirit Animals, Book 6

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Rise and Fall: Spirit Animals, Book 6 Book Poster Image
Action and surprises in best series installment so far.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

In Rise and Fall, readers learn a lot about the naked mole rat and how the blind creature uses vibrations in the earth to get around. They also learn just how strong ostriches are. Plus some food for thought from Cabaro, the lion, on the role of humans in the natural world. In all the books in the series, enhanced powers that the spirit animals pass to their human counterparts will get readers thinking about animals' keener eyesight, superior jumping ability and agility, and so on, and perhaps spark some conversation about which skills are natural and which -- such as prophecy, healing, and invisible fighting arms -- are magical.

Positive Messages

Teamwork and loyalty are the two big themes in the series, followed by forgiveness and trust. Tarik reminds Rollan that if one's burdens are too heavy, you should share them with others; don't bottle up sadness and loss. Also, the naked mole rat is a reminder that even animals not dressed to impress can have some pretty astounding abilities.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Meilin makes the biggest sacrifice for the whole team. Abeke makes a grave error, and Connor and Rollan don't let her get too hard on herself over it. Connor continues to grow in a leadership role, and Rollan learns about sharing his worries with their mentor, Tarik.

Violence & Scariness

Abeke and Meilin nearly drown when they're thrown overboard in chains and made to swim. In a possessed state, Meilin attacks Abeke, imagining she's being attacked by a giant snake; Abeke's injuries are cured by Jhi the panda. Sadly, Jhi isn't around for Connor, Rollan, and their spirit animals. They're nearly attacked by ostriches (they watch men get their heads bashed in by their powerful legs); Rollan is mauled on his side by lions; Brigan the wolf is attacked by lions and wild dogs, losing much blood; a close companion and his spirit animal are killed by venom and a sword fight but not before the spirit animal kills the bad guy. All three dead bodies are seen by Connor and Rollan after an avalanche of sand half-buries them all. A giant venomous snake with mind-control powers forces an animal to kill a human in front of a crowd. Talk of an ally killed by Conquerors and many villages of people fleeing the conquerors who burn their crops.  

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rise and Fall is the sixth book in a multimedia, multi-author 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 now 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. Rise and Fall's author, Eliot Schrefer, had previously written about wilderness survival with Endangered and Threatened. He's well-suited to writing this Spirit Animals installment as the four diverse 11-year-old characters at the center of the story -- and their spirit animals -- face plenty of peril in the wild. The girls nearly drown when thrown overboard in chains, and the boys and their animals are set upon by lions and wild dogs. There are bloody injuries, and a close companion and his spirit animal die. Readers also watch a giant snake order the death of a girl by her own spirit animal. Messages remain positive. A character learns to talk to others about his worries and sadness, and we all get a reminder that even the most humble-looking wild creatures can be pretty amazing.

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What's the story?

It's hard to say who's in a tighter spot at the beginning of RISE AND FALL. Maybe Meilin and Abeke, captured on a ship, starving, and then thrown overboard in chains to swim for the shore, only to end up in the clutches of the Conquerors when they get there. Or maybe it's Rollan, Connor, and Tarik. As they head farther into the desert trying to reach Cabaro the lion and his talisman before the Conquerors do, they face hordes of Conquerors taking over villages and herds of angry animals desperate to reach Cabaro's oasis -- and murderously desperate to keep humans out. 

Is it any good?

One thing that's hard to do with a long-running, many-authored series is keep things fresh -- but Eliot Schrefer (National Book Award finalist for Endangered) doesn't phone it in. By the sixth book, usually the big-name authors have all jumped ship, and, especially with a series such as this one and 39 Clues, publishers know they've hooked readers with the characters and the multimedia extras and can rest on their laurels. 

This may actually be the best in the series yet. Rise and Fall is the right balance of high action, character development (Meilin's struggle is particularly poignant), and surprises. The twist at the end will definitely keep Spirit Animal fans reading. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Spirit Animals series so far. What's changed among the main characters? Who's your favorite, and why? Which talisman would you like to have? 

  • Have you been to the Spirit Animals website? If so, which animal did you choose? Is it more fun to read a book series when you can play along in some way? Or do you prefer to read the books and move on?

  • What do you think about Meilin's sacrifice? What do you think Jhi, her spirit animal, thinks? Do you think Connor, Rollan, and Abeke would try to talk her out of her actions if they were there?

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