A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this fantasy book contains some vivid descriptions of battle scenes. There are also some tense escapes from evildoers, two of whom are the heroine's parents, and two kids are killed. One of Lyra's virtues is her ability to lie convincingly, but she prizes friendship and loyalty: Indeed, readers will root for this scrappy street fighter as she uses all her wits to outfox the villains, and discovers mystical talents that she never knew she had. The British dialogue and clever twists on common words may confuse some Americans, but the fantasy will make readers' imaginations soar. Good choice for fantasy lovers who've outgrown the kid stuff -- and enough adventure for reluctant readers (especially if you start by reading aloud). Read by the author in the audiobook version.
What's the story?
Enter a parallel world, dark and cold, with daemons, boat-dwelling gypsies, armored bears, and a street child with a strange destiny. Children, even Lyra's best friend Roger, start disappearing, victims of mysterious kidnappers called Gobblers. Lyra is given a magical instrument that tells the future and is sent off with the glamorous Mrs. Coulter. When she learns that Mrs. Coulter runs the Gobblers, she escapes, touching off a race to save the kidnapped children. With the help of the Gyptians, a boat-dwelling people, and Iorek Byrnison, a talking, warrior polar bear, she travels to the Arctic, where she finds that the children are being subjected to ghastly experiments that separate them from their souls. Meanwhile Iorek battles for control of the warrior bears, and Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel, prepares to blast a hole between worlds.
Is it any good?
Nail-biting suspense grabs readers until they can't shake themselves loose from this strange world -- familiar, but definitely not the Earth we know. The magical quality of Lyra's world sets readers' imaginations soaring. This place is so convincingly portrayed that the experiments performed on the children seem as gruesome to the reader as to Lyra. Readers soon accept her world, and they especially love this smart, rowdy heroine. Forget about sweet, honest girls -- this scrappy street fighter uses all her wits to outfox the villains, and discovers mystical talents that she never knew she had.
For avid readers, fantasy buffs, and kids who are outgrowing children's fantasies, this is a great treasure. As this feisty little heroine battles the Gobblers, and follows a mystical device to a universe-altering confrontation in the Arctic, your tweens and teens will be gripping this book with white knuckles long past lights-out. Even reluctant readers may get hooked if you begin by reading it aloud. Since it ends in a true cliff-hanger, the next stop is The Subtle Knife.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence here. Some pretty tough stuff happens in this book -- like kids are experimented on and killed. Is it overwhelming, or does the fantasy setting make it easier to handle?
This book has now been made into a movie. Families who watch it may want to contrast the film with the book. Which do you prefer? What would you have done differently if you were the director?
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