A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wild Born is the first book in a multimedia, multiauthor series from Scholastic, set up similar to its 39 Clues and Infinity Ring series. There's a website (http://spiritanimals.scholastic.com/) 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. Each book has a different seasoned children's author, and books are released every few months, starting in September 2013. The Spirit Animal series is set up for animal-loving tween readers just digging into fantasy books. The plot isn't terribly complicated, and the violence the four diverse 11-year-old characters face includes only a couple battles and talk of an evil force from the past coming back to wage war against everyone.
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What's the story?
All children of Edras must drink a drop of a special nectar when they turn 11 to see if they will summon a spirit animal. Few do, and usually it runs in families. So Conor, a simple sheepherder and servant, was shocked to see a great big wolf appear. Even more shocking, it had blue eyes and looked exactly like Briggan, one of the Four Fallen Great Beasts that protected Connor's city in an ancient war. Briggan had in fact returned, just as a secret order called the Greencloaks had foreseen. And then three more of the Four Fallen appear to other children from the far reaches of Edras: a street urchin named Rollan summons the falcon, a warrior's daughter named Meilin summons a panda, and Abeke, a hunter from a small village summons a leopard. The Four Fallen are back for a special purpose as evil begins to brew just outside Edras, and their new humans are not safe. Meilin only just escapes a surprise attack in her city to join the Greencloaks with Rollan and Conor. Abeke and her leopard aren't so lucky.
Is it any good?
Scholastic knows a great formula when it sees one. It certainly worked for the 39 Clues Series. Bestselling kids' authors played hot potato with a fun storyline -- A treasure hunt! A big family mystery! -- and kids could go online for prizes and games and more fun. Next there was the sci-fi time-travel series Infinity Ring. And here we go again, but now fantasy and magic have a turn. And, even better, magical animals. Not terribly original (His Dark Materials, Potter, The Familiars, Abhorsen Trilogy), but animals will always be great fantasy characters, especially for middle grade readers getting their first intro to fantasy worlds.
SPIRIT ANIMALS: WILD BORN started with a solid kids author: Brandon Mull of Fablehaven and Beyonders fame knows how to world build. But it's too bad the second author in line -- Maggie Stiefvater (The Scorpio Races) -- couldn't have helped a little building the relationships between the diverse characters and adding a bit more tension and mystery. We know the evil dudes are coming, but little else about them. And once Meilin rushes out of her city under attack, there's no news of what happened to make the foursome's quest seem more urgent. This installment ends abruptly with just a small piece of the whole quest accomplished, but it's all part of the tried-and-true multiplatform formula.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about mixing books you like with online fun. Did you read this and immediately go find your spirit animal on the website? Will you go back to the website before the next book comes out?
How do you think the publisher of the books benefits from combining a website with a book series?
Which character is your favorite and why? Who gets along best with their spirit animal? Worst? Why was Meilin disappointed in getting Jhi?
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