I gave one of my younger son’s friends a copy of Nicholas St. North, the first book in this Guardians of Childhood series, and he read it in a day. He has now read this one four times and is begging for the third book to “come out already!” My almost 11-year-old tore through the first one and dove immediately into this one. A book that can be independently red and enjoyed as well by first graders as it can fifth graders is not extremely common, from my experience. UPDATE 4/23/13: Here are my reviews of the other two books, Nicholas St. North and Toothiana, as well as my review of the Rise of the Guardians film.
E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core!, By William Joyce. Originally published in 2011. Second in The Guardians of Childhood series.
Rise of the Guardians, DreamWorks. Release Date, November 21
5 and up. Much like Nicholas St. North, the language in this may be a little complex for very young readers. The illustrations are excellent, but a bit more sparse than they were in the first book (I wonder if the push to get these out had something to do with that). I would say that the peril to the children in the story feels perhaps a little more scary as well, as Joyce does a nice job building the tension off of the first book, so if your little one is easily frightened, be aware, though not to worry, it all turns out okay in the end.
Good for Grown-Ups?
Yes. While I found the story not quite as rich as the first, I was still quite entertained by the imagination of it all.
Not available in electronic format. Widely available in print.
Quickie Plot Synopsis
Don’t go trying to read this book first, as we pick up pretty much exactly where we left off as Ombric, Katherine, and St. North begin their hunt for the magical moon items that can fully defeat the evil Pitch and his army of Fearlings and Nightmare Men. We are also introduced to an ancient, egg-obsessed creature called a Pooka, who lives a solitary existence on Easter Island ensuring that time moves on as it should. Oh, and did I mention he looks like a giant rabbit and loves chocolate?
Not Easter Island, E. Aster Island
Trouble comes almost immediately as Pitch takes advantage of Ombric’s absence from his magical city of Santoff Clausen and casts an evil spell on the town’s guardians. His army then takes all the children hostage and sets a trap for our heroes deep in the dark bowels of the earth.
Ombric, increasingly frail and tired, stays behind to free the others from Pitch’s spell, and St. North and Katherine take off to find the one creature that might be able to dig a hole deep and fast enough to help them save their friends—Bunnymund. But the Pooka is at first indifferent toward the heroes’ plight, preferring to stay aloof from the affairs of silly and passionate humans. But he decides to help them, and takes them to the Earth’s core on a rescue mission. Pitch, however, has a new weapon, and is determined to possess all of Ombric’s knowledge in order to throw the entire world into darkness.
With the tide turned against our heroes, Pitch’s victory looks certain…unless a certain bunny decides it’s time to take a stand.
It’s hard to follow-up a good as good as Nicholas St. North, and, frankly, this one is only great, rather than fantastically amazingly good. Frankly, it just feels like a classic “middle chapter” in that we don’t have the richness of discovery. We’re taken to the action pretty quickly, and some of that action just feels a little derivative of the first book, particularly the attack on Santoff Clausen.
Also, while I enjoyed Bunnymund’s character, a detached and truly eccentric being, the “connect-the-dots” of Easter-eggs-chocolate felt a little more “It is because I told you so” than the absolutely believable origin of St. North.
And you thought your kid got crazy when all hepped-up on chocolate
That being said, there is a LOT to love in this book. One of the things I got immediately was the Kirk-Spock relationship between St. North and Bunnymund. The heroic rush-in where angels fear to tread vs. the aloof logic rubbing up against each other, but finally combining to play off of each other’s strengths. Also, this book dives deeper into the back-story of Pitch, bringing more depth to his descent into evil, and foreshadowing what I expect to be a Vader-like redemption. Also the fact that Pitch is actually getting stronger, figuring out ways to make himself nearly invincible, adds to the dramatic tension and fun.
I was a little disappointed that there weren’t as many of the incredible illustrations to help suck you into this fantastic world as there were in the first book, but it is an enjoyable read that does what middle chapters are supposed to do—leave you wanting more.
Overall Read Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Opportunities for Discussion
Of course, many of the themes from Nicholas St. North are continued in this book, but there are a few new and interesting dynamics in this book well worth mention in their own right:
Power of the Heart: As we learn in the first book, Pitch is a fallen hero, who had a daughter himself who, in a sense, helped to contribute to his demise. Ombric gives us a closer look at the moment of Pitch’s fall into darkness, and a glimmer that the hero he was may still, indeed be somewhere buried deep inside. Indeed, Katherine, for a scant moment, seems to bring him partially out of his demonic imprisonment.
This is a wonderful opportunity to discuss the nature of evil with your child. Even in the midst of battle, Katherine looks to overcome Pitch not with the sword, but by appealing to the good she still sees inside him. It’s a very “Luke-Vader” kind of moment. The idea of not seeing your antagonist as an enemy, but appealing to their common humanity is a wonderful lesson that has as much application on the playground as it does at the Earth’s core.
The Power of Perspective: As I noted in the review, the Trek nerd in me really enjoyed the St. North-Bunnymund relationship. The friction was very reminiscent of how J.J. Abrams constructed the Kirk-Spock relationship in the new Star Trek film. And, like there, it works very well here, as Nicholas prefers to feel his way through, while E. Aster prefers to remain dispassionate. It is when each borrows a page from the other that they are able to work best together.
I know I mentioned J.J.’s version, but I’m an old-school nerd
Both recognizing and valuing different perspectives is a core lesson in Conflict Partnership, and having this lesson taught by Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny is incredibly original. Here, we see that neither of them are “wrong” in what they are seeing, they simply have divergent views as to both the nature of the problem and the solution. Getting frustrated when people don’t immediately see things your way does not actually get you any further toward actually solving a problem. Katherine’s role as mediator between the two, and finally as a point that unites them (a-la Kirk-Spock-McCoy, to extend the nerdiness) helps to show that by combining strengths, rather than focusing on differences, can we get to solutions where everyone (except the Fearlings and Nightmare Men, of course) wins.
The Hero’s Journey: Ombric is traveling down a well-worn path, the elder mentor, aged and failing, imparting wisdom to the next generation. You can play a game with your child thinking about the many times they may have seen or read this before (cue Obi-Wan, Dumbledore, and Gandalf here). But then you might ask why we see this convention used so often? Is it that the mentor needs to disappear in order for the hero to truly become the central figure? Is it a metaphor for growing up? And what the heck is a metaphor? This literary tact is an engaging way to talk to your kids about their own perspectives on what growing up means to them.
Overall Family Discussion Score: 4 out of 5 stars.
What to Expect from the Movie
As I noted in the St. North post, from the preview, Rise of the Guardians looks like the movie will be an amalgam of the Guardians characters (though only the first two are out so far).
I found out that Joyce is actually serving as co-director on the film. This gives me some added hope that we will get some of the same spirit in the story as we are getting from the books. The fact that we seem to have the fully white-bearded Santa makes me think that we’re not going to get that same relationship between St. North and Bunnymund that I so enjoyed in the book.
As for E. Aster, rather than an ancient and eccentric Pooka, it seems the Pooka is a cross between Bugs Bunny and Crocodile Dundee. It feels very mainstream to me—like the studio just didn’t get the delightful quirkiness of the book’s character and said, “Hey, he’s from the South Pacific, right, so why don’t we have him be some kind of sassy Australian guy!”
That said, there may be a lot to be said for telling this story differently on the big screen, so I’ll try to practice what I preach and go to the film with an open mind for different perspectives.
Next in this series: An unexpected journey.