The kids went on a tear this summer with various series. I couldn’t read them all, but thought this one looked intriguing and I really, really enjoyed it. The Wildwood Chronicles–Wildwood, Under Wildwood
and Wildwood Imperium–follow two kids from Portland who stumble into a hidden civilization right outside the city, which everyone in Portland calls the Impassible Wilderness but which inhabitants of the area call Wildwood. Written by Colin Meloy, who is also lead singer and songwriter of the band the Decembrists, and illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis, who also illustrated the Lemony Snicket books, the series draws from elements of Narnia (talking animals, wicked queen), Middle Earth (trees that get involved in just war), Robin Hood (outlaws who steal from the rich to give to the poor), and other classic tales of adventure and worlds within worlds. The books are very well written, imaginative, and memorable–full of adventure, quests, and epic battles where good wins out over evil.
In short, these are great books for summer reading, or for any time. These are the sorts of books that I’d give for gifts because kids would read them over and over, and because in addition to great writing they also have excellent illustrations sprinkled throughout, which really adds to the work.
One thing I particularly loved about the books was the author’s willingness to make them long (over 550 pages for a Middle Grade book is unusual), to use great vocabulary and literary allusions, and to approach complex themes with much greater nuance than usual in a children’s book. I so appreciate authors who respect kids as able to handle ideas. Certainly some of these things will go over the heads of lots of readers, but it can’t hurt to plant seeds that either challenge generally accepted orthodoxies or parallel historical developments.
I’d recommend the Wildwood Chronicles for boys and girls who like fantasy and adventure and who aren’t daunted by slightly longer books. Topically, they are fine for younger kids who are solid readers, in my opinion, although there are a couple (literally only three to four out of three over 500 page books) of language issues you might want to discuss with younger kids who don’t filter that well yet.
And if your kids get this series, parents you will want to read it too. Not just because of the compelling storytelling and great writing, but because the books are full of fodder for great conversations with your kids!
If you or your kids read this series, my kids want to know what you liked best and which part of Wildwood you’d want to join.
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