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Between Flowers and Bones [a review]

I was joking with a friend of mine a couple months ago that the modern landscape of middle grade children's books is—to put it nicely—not particularly inspiring to me. Like lots of parents, I want my kids to read. Perhaps I'm picky, but reading in and of itself is not enough, though. I want my kids to read good books. What makes for a good middle grade novel? In my mind, it's at least the following:

  • Originality. Plenty of authors take someone else's great ideas and reheat them in the microwave, resulting in something that might be marketable to young readers but is limp, cold in the center, and devoid of value.
  • Relatable characters. The middle grade years are super tough, and there is incarnational value for my kids to read about characters who feel realistic. The protagonist's struggles make their growth all the more inspiring.
  • Moral formation. This one is really hard to get right; you can do without it and end up with a fun but fluffy adventure, or you can overdo it and end up with a saccharine, preachy morality tale. If you nail it, though, it becomes the kind of book that makes you, the reader, want to live a better story.

When Carolyn Leiloglou came out with her book Beneath the Swirling Sky last year, I was suitably impressed. It's a Christian fantasy novel for kids, but it's not just applying a moral veneer over some popular secular franchise. The novel has an agenda, but the agenda is to get kids excited about... fine art of all things! It's like if an art appreciation class had a baby with an adventure novel, and the result is actually pretty great.

This year Leiloglou is continuing the adventure in the sequel, Between Flowers and Bones. While the first novel is a nod to the work of Vincent Van Gogh, this one is inspired by the work of Georgia O'Keeffe. The two cousins from the first book show up again with more adventures, more lessons learned the hard way, and more growing up. Over the course of the novel they learn the importance of humility, family, friendship, and forgiveness.

It's a solid follow-up to her first book, expanding the boundaries of her Restorationists world and the limits of Vincent and Georgia's friendship. I know my kids are going to love it!

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.

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