Friday, February 9, 2024

Beanstalk by Linda Nosul and Catherine Travers


Jackie has been moved to a new community--again. His family has been moving around to accommodate his mother's medical training and residencies. His dog, Ollie, and his love of math and skateboarding have been constants in his ever-changing life. When he meets Pete, he finds they don't have a whole lot in common until after they both get mysteriously sucked down a hole in Jackie's yard. Pete doesn't hesitate to try to help and hops in right after Jackie.  

They end up in the underworld (the Kingdom of Ondergrondse). Made up of four provinces: Fairiehaven, Gnomestead, Meadowood, and Ogreville the boys encounter [not surprisingly] fairies, gnomes, and ogres. A prophecy has warned that the princess of Ondergrondse is in danger and must be taken to Upworld (the world humans inhabit). The two boys find it a challenge trying to convince her that she is in danger and why she should trust two "little" boys.

Jackie and Pete are faced with physical and mental challenges as they try to rescue the princess who has been kidnapped by an ogre seeking to take control of the underworld by marrying the princess. Readers will be drawn into the suspense and adventure from the first chapter until the final resolution. The conclusion has a hint of ambiguity, which allows for a subsequent book. 

Beanstalk offers a perfect mix of adventure, problem-solving, and a heroic quest on the level of a middle school reader. It's a nice length for advanced younger readers or older struggling readers. The length limits the development of the Ondergrondse setting but perhaps a further adventure will flesh out more details later. 

A few cautions as a parent. There were several misuses of God's name;"oh my god" was used four times (the repetition of that made it stand out more). I was also concerned about a reference to Stranger Things (a program with mature content that I would not recommend for a middle school audience). Another reference was made to Twilight Zone which may not be understood by younger audiences. 

Overall, Beanstalk offers some good lessons about teamwork, friendship, courage, and compassion. With the inclusion of several elements of classic fairy tales, the story offers a bridge from childhood books into the greater complexity of middle-grade fantasy. For that reason, I think this book is a worthy stepping stone for a child's literary journey, offering an imaginative tale with a satisfactory conclusion.

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Beanstalk through Reedsy for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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