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By Midge Lyndee
Book Review 

What, No Magic?

The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment

 

August 19, 2023

Have you wondered if there are books out there for kids that don't involve magic, fantasy, wizards, vampires, werewolves or aliens? There are plenty, with themes that educate, fascinate and encourage young people to develop curiosity, build self esteem and lean into wonders of the world around them.

Adventures in the realm of reality starts with "Britfield" by C. R. Stewart. The reader first finds children at the mercy of devious adults running an orphanage in northern England. In a deteriorating castle-like fortress, children receive only one meal a day and live in cold damp rooms where instead of attending school, they are taught a trade like basket weaving or simple furniture building. The caretakers in turn sell what they make for their own personal profit.

Strictly controlled, the children have no freedom to run and play or even speak freely to each other. They are constantly silenced, berated and punished. Circumstances take a turn when Sarah is sent up to an attic in punishment and Tom is told his parents may still be alive. Fear put aside, a plan of escape is deemed a priority for them both.

All the students work together to help Tom and Sarah escape to the outside safely. Then the rest is up to them. They need to get to London. But how? Why, a hot air balloon of course! Barely escaping from police and a detective who specializes in catching runaways, they lift up high into the sky and it is then up to them to figure out, by trial and error, how to maneuver and steer the balloon south.

The author desired to create a series where the main characters use their ingenuity to empower their own freedom, adding geography and history lessons along the way. No magic is involved. Instead, they ride the winds over pastures, farmhouses, estates and castles into London. There they visit universities, libraries and museums for clues to the mystery surrounding Tom's family. Will his parents be found? Or will Tom and Sarah be caught first? What groups are shadowing them besides the police? What is the fate of the other orphans and their captors? This is the first book of three already published in the Britfield series, with Stewart promising four more. A movie of book one, "Britfield & the Lost Crown" is already in the works.

I found a long list of other series where kids are confronted with mysteries and challenges. "The Devlin Quick Mystery Series" by Linda Fairstein is a modern day Nancy Drew, with 12-year-old Devlin fighting crimes at the NY Public Library. "The Virginia Series" by Steven K. Smith has Derek, Sam and Caitlin solving mysteries in 10 books, weaving around early American history and government in the state of Virginia. Coin collecting is also covered in book one along with good clean fun, suspense that holds your breath and laugh out loud humor.

Mysteries involving our national parks are found in both the "National Park Mystery Series" by Aaron Johnson and in "Campground Kids" by C. R. Fulton. Johnson starts his first book off with a null cipher and a mysterious book of photographs left to Jake by his grandfather. He and his family head to Rocky Mountain National Park where the mystery evolves. Fulton writes about Isaiah, Sadie and Ethan who have their first camping experience in the Grand Tetons. Between the two series, they cover quite a few parks including Yellowstone, Zion and the Grand Canyon. If readers can't get to these places themselves, these kids take you there with a lot of fun and adventure in the mix.

If you have a little lawyer budding in your family, perhaps "Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer" by John Grisham would be of interest. This 13 year old solves crimes, seeks justice and dreams of becoming a lawyer when he grows up. Grisham is the well-known American novelist, lawyer and politician, selling millions of copies of his best selling legal thrillers. You can bet he will walk young people through the ins and outs of courtrooms and beyond.

What I liked about all these series is that though they are written for middle graders from 8 year olds to early teens, they can just as easily be enjoyed by adults. Remember reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys? These new stories are a nice place to visit, where the young characters are not led by adult worries, but are free to explore and solve mysteries at their own pace, in their own way. Stepping into their shoes and their mindsets can be a little stay-cation for the tired and weary.

Good Books. Good reading.

*Midge Lyn'dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.

 
 

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