In this edition of my holiday gift guide for book geeks and rabid readers, I bring you the perfect book for the young Tolkien fan, the Beowulf-to-be (boy or girl) who loves an epic tale with a teary twist woven in.
Schmidt, Gary. What Came from the Stars. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2013. MP3.
Genre: middle grade speculative fiction
Summary: Tommy Pepper is your average sixth grader dealing with your not-so-average sixth grader stuff. Tommy’s mom died in a car wreck he’s pretty sure he caused. The shock and the grief caused his little sister Patty to stop talking and his dad stopped painting. Now they might lose their house to a beach front condo project. To top it all off, Tommy finds a strange necklace that gives him some amazing powers. Little does he know someone from another planet is tracking the necklace — someone with malicious, deadly intentions.
Critique: Tommy’s story intersperses with the tribulations of Young Waeglim, who lives on a planet in another galaxy far far away. The evil Lord Mondus wants to steal the Art (akin to pure creative magic) of Waeglim’s people, the Valorim. Waeglim forges the Art into a necklace and hurls it out into space, where it eventually crash lands in Tommy Pepper’s lunchbox.
I know I know: all that technically falls under summary, but summarizing this book is complicated. Reading it, however, is NOT!
Tommy’s sections are written in a familiar, contemporary voice (except when the necklace influences Tommy’s perceptions, occasionally causing him to speak the language of the Valorim). Waeglim’s sections, however, are in an old epic saga style à la Beowulf, Njal’s Saga, The Song of Roland, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
By mingling these two, very different “lingos,” Gary Schmidt opens up exciting, new literary territory for upper middle grade and younger YA readers! If parents are frothing-at-the-mouth Tolkien fans (and by extension, frothing fans of old Germanic cultures and literature) who desperately want their kids to become frothing Tolkien fans, this is the book to start’em on!
One of the great but unexpected benefits of this approach is how it teaches a younger reader to infer the meanings of unfamiliar words. Orulo. Honora. Resid. Words from another planet that mingle with English and enough contextual clues to allow for interpretation. The reader is continually challenged to participate with the text.
(For the more reluctant readers, I highly recommend the recorded version! Graham Winton is an excellent reader who aptly renders all the drama and nail-biting action out of the epic segments.)