Thursday, December 15, 2011

Middle-Grade Review: Nicholas St. North (The Guardians)

 Paging through the Simon & Schuster children’s catalog last spring, I was intrigued by a big 2-page spread for a brand-new series called The Guardians by veteran children’s authors William Joyce and Laura Geringer.  What caught my eye?  The copy said that a movie adaptation was in progress…and the first book of the new series hadn’t even been published yet!  Companion pictures books (beginning with The Man in the Moon) are also planned.  I decided to check out this new multi-media concept and requested a review copy of Book One: Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King.

The series concept is that each book will tell the legend of the beginning of various Guardians of Childhood: the Man in the Moon, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, etc.  This first book, as you might have guessed, tells the story of St. Nick (and also the Man in the Moon), but you won’t recognize anything from other traditional stories you’ve heard.   As the inside flap says, “Here, in this first in a series of epic Guardian adventures, meet the legendary St. Nick.  You’ve known about him for years, but, it turns out, you don’t really know him at all…”

The story opens with a classic tale of good versus evil as the Nightmare King (evil, obviously) escapes from his state of frozen paralysis and also releases the spectral boy with his crystal dagger, powered by moonbeams (good).  Meanwhile, in the peaceful, isolated Siberian town of Santoff Claussen, a kind and powerful wizard named Ombric senses that something bad has happened and hastens to protect the people of his village.  Through a dream, he summons Nicholas St. North, a notorious bandit, to help him.  An epic battle ensues.

This is a fast-paced adventure story, full of imagination and fantasy, though it never did fully connect the St. Nick we know today with these early events that obviously helped to point him in that direction (perhaps the story will continue in one of the sequels).  I’m not familiar with Geringer but know that William Joyce is well known for his very creative stories, like George Shrinks, A Day with Wilbur Robinson (made into the movie Meet the Robinsons), and my family’s favorite, Dinosaur Bob.  This new middle-grade series has all the originality and imagination of those picture books and is illustrated by Joyce’s fanciful “illuminations.”  It’s sure to be a hit with kids who enjoy action and fantasy.

228 pages, Atheneum (imprint of Simon & Schuster) 


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