Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Guardians of Ga'Hoole

Titles: The Captive (#1), The Journey (#2), The Rescue (#3), The Siege (#4); The Shattering (#5); The Burning (#6); The Hatchling (#7) and 9 more! (16 total)

Author: Kathryn Lasky (www.kathrynlasky.com)

Rating: * (1 star our of 3 possible, "C")
            Recommended with Reservations

Audience: 3rd graders and up

The first book in this series (The Captive) began to live up to my expectations! Could it be true?! The vocab was there (meticulous, despicable, infiltrator, synchronize); the natural history of owls (Latin nomenclature, flight facts, specialized feathers); the complex plot (traitors, adventure, mystery, battles, problem solving, critical thinking, even the all-important kingdom maps which almost guarantee a good book according to my 9 year old); the best themes (sacrifice, integrity, justice, friendship).

What could possibly go wrong?

The Captive tells the story of Soren, a young barn owl taken from his family to serve at St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. The problem is that nothing is as it seems at "St. Aggies." For instance, "orphaned" really means abducted; "rescue" really means snatched and "higher good" really means to never question authority.

Fortunately, Soren meets Glyfie, a resourceful elf owl who suspects the orphanage's schemes. "Our job is to not get moon-blinked (brainwashed) and stand right side up in an upside down world." "Everything at St. Aggie's is upside down and inside out." "Thinking is the only way we'll be able to plan an escape."

In some ways a version of Animal Farm or Watership Down for younger readers, the drawback to this series is the level of violence. In The Captive when an owl is caught rescuing orphaned eggs, the aggressors cry "Kill! Kill!" and the results are intense. Likewise, in the final battle, the villain owls scream "I'll kill you! Kill you! I'll rip out your eyes!" The scene that really turned me off, however, was when the brainwashed owls lay down and allow vampire bats to suck their blood to further weaken them.

Milder offenses include owl slang or curses ("wet-poop," "racdrops"). There is also a spiritual side to "Guardians." Glaux is the owl god, glaumora is owl heaven, and scrooms are disembodied owls (ghosts) with unfinished business. When Soren meets his parents' scrooms and receives an important warning, the meeting is ephemeral, but not unpleasant.

You may find these drawbacks enough to turn your family off. In fact, I came close to not recommending this series. Two things redeemed it for me: One is a strong thematic message that we must critically analyze what our society tells us (think Holocaust, slavery, pop culture). The second is Lasky's background and reputation as a writer. (See website www.kathrynlasky.com) As always, it is reasonable to respectfully disagree!

This review was based on books 1 and 3 in the series. The movie, Guardians of Ga'Hoole may be reviewed at a later date.

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