A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Spirit animals' natural skills add to their human counterparts' abilities and it will get readers thinking about animals' keener eyesight, superior jumping ability and agility, etc. (Though some skills -- prophecy, healing -- are magical, not natural.)
Bravery is key; the world needs to be saved from a growing evil force. So is learning to trust others and make good choices. In one scene enemies approach and Conor asks if they should take off their Greencloaks that identify them as possible enemies. Tarik tells them, "Never out of shame or to win favor.... We must stand behind who we are and what we represent."
Positive Role Models
The four main tween characters are from diverse backgrounds: Conor: sheepherder; Rollan: city street urchin; Meilin: cultured girl from Zhong (who appears Asian); Abeke: strong, independent girl from Nilo (who appears to be from somewhere very much like central Africa). They're not fast friends in this first book of the series, but have growing respect for one another. They each have their faults -- Meilin is proud and Rollan is distrustful -- but are willing to help their cause.
Violence & Scariness
A climactic battle with swords and arrows leaves some people and animals dead or thrown off cliffs and presumed dead; one sympathetic character is stabbed in the back and dies slowly. Some martial arts-style fighting in a ring. Meilin sees death for the first time in a battle that she flees in her home city; there's a surprise attack with arrows and swords. A mention that Abeke's mother had been taken by sickness. Rollan mentions that he may prefer prison to going back to the orphanage where he was mistreated. There's also talk of the war that happened when the four Great Beasts originally fell, killing off whole populations.
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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.
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.
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.