At the end of January, my husband and I decided our kids were old enough to take care of themselves for a week (the oldest is in college, the youngest in middle school), and we hit the Colorado slopes for the first time in two decades. It was a fantastic trip. We traveled with my in-laws. Dad loves to ski, but he’s getting up there in years and most of his friends have retired from such recreation. Mom wouldn’t ride a ski lift at gunpoint, let alone strap on skis and fling herself down a mountain. So she brought lots of books. And with that much travel time, so did I. For the first time in a while, I indulged in middle grade and enjoyed three of them enough to share with you over a series of review posts.
The first is a trilogy started by Shannon Hale in 2005 and completed a decade later. Book one, Princess Academy, claimed Newberry Honors in 2006. It was recommended to me by Patricia Tilton of Children’s Books Heal. While I thoroughly enjoyed this series, it took me a while to get into it because I started with the audio. I like to listen to books when I walk, but I was not impressed with this one at all. I deleted it within half a mile and switched to something else. I picked up the Kindle version a few days later and got sucked in within minutes. It’s a beautiful story of family, duty, and friendship.
Miri is a young girl who lives on Mount Eskel, a “backward” province in the kingdom of Danland. On Mount Eskel, the sole source of income is the linder blocks the villagers quarry out of the mountain, the sale of which barely provides food to last the winter. Imagine the kingdom’s surprise when the priests/prophets name Mout Eskel as the location from which the crown prince must choose his bride. Immediately, an academy is set up for girls of the appropriate age to learn academics, poise, etiquette, etc., Miri among them.
The academy is difficult. Their tutor is a hard-nosed woman who uses harsh disciplinary measures to keep her students in line, but Miri excels, gobbling up all the information she can. Competition is fierce among the girls. After all, the one who performs the best at her studies will have an advantage over the others when the prince comes to make his choice. Throughout the pressured winter, Miri’s relationships with the other girls undergo dramatic changes, some good, some bad, and she emerges with knowledge and leadership skills to make a real difference in her village. Yet even as she contemplates marriage to a prince, she cannot forget her friend Peder, the young man who’s eagerly awaiting her return home.
Books two carries Miri to Asland, the capital of Danland, where her leadership is vital to quelling a revolution developing between the classes. And book three brings her one of the poorest regions in Danland during the invasion by a neighboring kingdom. There, she becomes the tutor for three young royals who just might secure Danland’s future. All three are tremendous stories with sharply delineated characters, difficult challenges, and an awe-inspiring setting. Best of all, they exemplify so many good qualities for young readers–maturity, wisdom, leadership, friendship, loyalty, and good choices–and encourage emulation. I know came to this series late, but if you or especially your middle-grade daughters haven’t read it yet, I highly, highly recommend it.