One of my favorite types of literature is “juvenile literature,” that which is intended for older children. I read some of my favorite books as a child, and Madeleine L’Engle still remains on my favorite list, not just because I enjoy fantasy, but because of the truth and beauty that can be found between those pages. Why? I think L’Engle explained this well in her autobiographical A Circle of Quiet: “lf it’s not good enough for adults, it’s not good enough for children. If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grownup, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books. And words.”
In July, my older brother introduced me to a new author to add to my “favorite” list. I am glad that I hadn’t read Andrew Peterson’s work before July, as the first book of The Wingfeather Saga left me wanting more, and I have been able to experience book two, North! Or Be Eaten less than two months after the first. Though these are considered juvenile literature, I found beautiful truth and imagery within. And one truth within was a truth that is missing from too many of the books that crowd our shelves: our Maker has a plan for our lives. On page 143 of this work, a bookseller states this well. “Whether crushed or sheltered by the Maker’s hand, ‘tis beneath it we go, from breath to death.” (warning: if you have not yet read these books, the review below does contain spoilers of the first one. Not the second, though… how fair would that be? It would be like a certain older brother of mine who used to give away the ending of a book as I was starting it. Not nice.)
Lest this story sound simple, allow me to explain. Here is a little synopsis of the book:
Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby thought they were normal children with normal lives and a normal past. But now they know they’re really the Lost Jewels of Anniera, heirs to a legendary kingdom across the sea, and suddenly everyone wants to kill them.
Their escape brings readers to the very brink of Fingap Falls, over the Stony Mountains, and across the Ice Prairies, while villains galore try to stop the Igibys permanently. Fearsome toothy cows and horned hounds return, along with new dangers: a mad man running a fork factory, a den of rockroaches, and majestic talking sea dragons.
Finding they’re royalty, as wonderful as this may sound, did bring on responsibility, not all of it welcome. 12-year-old Janner, the oldest of the Igiby children, faced this question as they started their escape. “Is it worth it? he asked himself. Was it worth his losing his own life in order to learn the truth about who he was and who he was becoming? Yes.” (p 79) Among other things, this book was the story of Janner and his very unusual coming of age.
In the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, the Igiby children were told their roles, intended since birth. Janner, the throne warden, was not to be king – that was his younger brother Tink. No, Janner’s role was to act as protector of the king, to keep him safe. Reading how Janner acted as caregiver to an unwilling brother and how the weakest of the three children, their young sister who needed a crutch to walk, overcame the largest of their physical obstacles … these aspects spoke to me personally, falling into the “Invisible Issues” theme of this blog. And yes, I needed a few tissues along the way.
Andrew Peterson’s storytelling was gripping, his style engaging, and his characters memorable. The story is one of love, redemption, family, responsibility, honor, and so much more. And you know what? I think Madeleine L’Engle would have liked it.