A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will learn about the culture of Brittany during the early 16th century; some folklore about the lives of saints important to Bretons of the time; and one of Brittany's important agricultural crops. They'll learn a few French and Breton vocabulary words and about the rocky relationship between France and Brittany at that time. The ingredients for making ink are given, and kids can be encouraged to look up the modern names for "green vitriol" or "oak galls." There's a lot of detail about the art of blacksmithing. A few Latin phrases in the form of family mottoes are translated.
Be careful what you wish for; it might come true. Magic should have some purpose to it and be used to accomplish good. Observe, test, and assess before you try something. What a relationship is called (whether you're a stepparent or a half sister) isn't important; the relationship itself is what matters. Forgiving someone doesn't mean they deserve your apology; rather, it means you'll be able to move on in life without being burdened by anger or hatred.
Positive Role Models
Sand and Perrotte, both about 13, demonstrate tremendous resourcefulness in providing for themselves and surviving when they're trapped, for what could be months or years, in a deserted castle. They're loyal to each other and their families. They each value learning -- for Perrotte, academic study; for Sand, craftsmanship -- and carefully think problems through to find solutions. Sand comes from a loving family, not without its problems, but he comes to appreciate the tremendous support and love that spring from it. There are villainous adults, but no one's completely evil.
Violence & Scariness
The scariness comes mostly from the creepy atmosphere of the abandoned castle, such as when a corpse is described with some detail but no gore or when a character awakens after being dead for many years. The thorns surrounding the castle act as if they're alive, reaching for and enveloping things that come close. Blood from scratches and scrapes is mentioned a few times; pus from a wound is mentioned but not described. Complications from childbirth ("childbed fever" and excessive bleeding) are mentioned. Sand's feelings of murderous rage are described in detail, but how he calms himself down also is described.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sand and Perrotte sleep on separate beds pushed next to each other in an L shape and hold hands while falling asleep. They hug a few times.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Sand and Perotte hope they'll find wine or ale, among other things, to drink in the abandoned castle. (They only ever find water.) They drink watered wine during a refreshment break in political negotiations.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell (Handbook for Dragon Slayers) is a charming, delightful fairy tale. The pace is gentle but there's enough suspense to keep the pages turning. The scariness comes more from a creepy atmosphere than from violence, monsters, or fast action, but blood is mentioned a few times. The 13-year-old heroes, Sand and Perrotte, are strong role models, and the themes of family, memory, and the healing power of kindness and forgiveness will give kids lots to think about.
Is It Any Good?
THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS is an enchanting fairy tale parents will enjoy reading aloud as much as kids will enjoy reading on their own. Its pace is gentler and quieter than the excitement in author Merrie Haskell's Handbook for Dragon Slayers. It's less about adventure and more about learning, growing, and the power of forgiveness. Suspense is created early on and sustained at a consistent level that keeps the story engrossing without over-the-top action.
Stellar language such as "furniture slumped like beasts fallen to the hunt"; the mysterious and poetic recollections of Perrotte's dream-like afterlife; and themes of family, memory, and forgiveness will make multiple readings a rich, rewarding experience.
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.