Monday, November 7, 2016

Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight by Douglas Gibson, 2015

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One day, Isaac Thompson is just your average fifth grader playing the part of a porcupine in the school play. The next, he has strayed into a mysterious subterranean realm that has been lurking beneath his school Castle Elementary and launches his quest to knighthood. When Isaac's little sister Lily goes missing from their school's creepy basement, he and his best friends Max and Emma set out in search of her. Their search takes them to the Underground, where they encounter an army of spear-wielding rats, a talking human-sized bat, and a thumb-nosed prison guard. But humans who stay in the Underground too long transform into weird, unpleasant creatures and are forced to work for the horrible Elf King. Can Isaac and his crew escape the Underground before it's too late for them to ever return home?
(160 pages)

Wow. This was such a fun book. It kind of reminded me of a Rick Riordan novel, in the way that it takes everyday kids and puts them into crazy scenarios. It's also like Suzanne Collins's Gregor the Overlander books, with its fantastical underground world and societal flaws.

What I really appreciate about Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight is that, despite being part of a genre known for its repackaging of tired old adventure formulas (and despite threatening to follow those cliches during the first few chapters), it not only manages to create an original and interesting world but it also poses some thought-provoking moral questions along the way. The characters make a series of increasingly dark discoveries as the book goes along, exposing the dark side of what seemed at first like such an exciting and ideal kingdom. I don't want to go too much into exactly what those discoveries are, because the book is short enough that I'd be spoiling quite a large percentage of it for you, but suffice it to say that I really enjoyed being taken along for the ride.

Okay, though, now all of you who actually have middle schoolers are thinking that Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight is going to be too dark for your kids. I can't speak for every reader out there, but one of the things that actually impressed me with Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight was that the author managed to pack some thought-provoking scenarios into it while still keeping the story extremely PG. The actual violence is very minimal, and the sense of danger as the kids hunt for Lily is present but never overwhelming. Tales is definitely much less violent than the Gregor the Overlander books I mentioned earlier (and less violent than some of Rick Riordan's books too, now that I think about it). I don't read a huge amount of books in this genre, so I can't tell you how it stacks up among its peers, but I at least enjoyed it. As soon as I hit "publish" on this review I'm passing it on to the best judge of all: my ten-year-old brother, a member of its actual target audience. If his opinion of the book is radically different from my own, then I'll come back here later and add his thoughts to this review.

When's the last time you read a middle-grade fantasy novel? I hadn't read one in ages, and I think I'm getting hooked again. I don't know what to read next, though–comment below with your favorites so I can check them out!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review.

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