It’s an August Friday, one-fifth of the Fridays in August 2012, and that means that I’m sharing with you an “augmented fifth” middle grade novel — a book that has augmented my life, has enriched my life, and that I am happy to recommend to others. Since my Monday post this week talked about writing and the ways writers can improve their craft, and since Emma Walton Hamilton has been instrumental in helping me grow and learn as a writer, I have chosen to highlight one of the books she and her mother have written.
I have shared many books written by this pair over the time I’ve been blogging about books, both here and on my old blog, elizabethannewrites. With this book, Julie and Emma have moved out of their usual “comfort zone” and have produced a mystery based on a medieval French legend, a story that is both well-researched and completely captivating.
Author: Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton
Publisher: New York: Harper Collins, 2004
Genre: Middle Grade mystery; retelling of legend
Audience Age: upper middle grade. 10 – 14
Availability: Readily available in paperback.
“The morning was filled with promise.” Somehow, with that first line, one gets the sense that the promise will not be fulfilled, that something will go wrong to thwart the hope and possibilities that stirred hearts and minds early in the day. Something does, indeed, go horribly wrong. A young man is murdered, his body hidden, and there seems to be no reason for it nor any way to find the guilty one.
Such a deed doesn’t seem the stuff of middle grade fiction, yet the authors have taken this ancient story and have woven through it the story of a fictitious thirteen-year-old boy who was devoted to the victim of the crime, as well as the intriguing basis of the legend itself, Dragon, the dog of Montargis — whose master was the young man who was murdered — and have made it a story that will catch and hold the interest of older middle graders as well as early teens.
Julie and Emma did extensive research to prepare for the writing of this novel. Indeed, Julie mentions on their website that she was — understandably — quite proud of herself when she had this experience: “It was a proud day when I visited a museum in Chicago and, finding a display of armor from the middle ages, was able to recognize which piece was German, which English, which Italian.” I would urge you to read Julie’s words about the book in their entirety, on the Julie Andrews Collection website.
Their research pays off in the richness of detail and description, the way in which the medieval setting of the story becomes real in the imagination’s eye. Even their choice of language, which may be a bit challenging for some young readers, supports the feeling that one has been somehow transported back in time. A Montargis family tree, a glossary of French terms, and a glossary of medieval terms helps in decoding the words and lineages that might otherwise have been stumbling blocks to the following of the story.
Although I don’t want to give away the crux of the story, I will say that it pays to follow Dragon’s part in the action closely. This rare white wolfhound is crucial to the advancement and resolution of the plot, and in the skillful and knowledgeable hands of two dog-lovers is made both a fully-realized character and a fully realistic dog.
School Library Journal says this of the book: “Edwards and Hamilton render a beautifully written retelling of ‘The Legend of the Dog of Montargis.’ A well-done historical novel with an exciting mystery.”
GIVEAWAY REMINDER! Remember that everyone who comments on any post on this blog in the month of August is automatically entered into a giveaway draw for one copy of Emma’s book Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment. As the school year begins for many, this book will be an invaluable resource for ensuring that reading becomes or continues to be something that children love.