There are far too few really unusual publications in the world of children’s literature. For geeky parents, especially, it can be difficult to find books that will appeal to their young readers without being retreads of a dozen other books they’ve already read. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the lengthily-named Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix by R.L. LaFevers starts with some familiar ideas, but then changes them up enough to bring the story to unexpected places.
The story — the first of a planned series of novels — starts with a version of a remarkably common scene in kids’ books, in which 10-year-old Nate Fludd finds out that his adventurer parents have been lost at sea and are presumed dead. Nate is sent to live with his aunt Phil, whom he’s never met before. Phil is an adventurer, too, but instead of chasing lost arks or mummies, she is a “beastologist,” working with unusual creatures generally thought to be either extinct or mythical.
After becoming acquainted with the curmudgeonly talking dodo who lives with Phil, Nate sets out on a trip with her. The story takes place in 1928, so Phil and Nate fly in a biplane (a “Sopwith Platypus,” in a fine joke that will go over most kids’ heads) to Arabia, where they must assist in the rebirth of a phoenix, an event that takes place only once every 500 years. Naturally, there are complications along the way, including a pair of gremlins (one of whom becomes a major character) on the plane and Phil being kidnapped by Bedouins.
My family read this book together, just after finishing reading all seven Harry Potter books, so it was refreshing to read a well-written story that managed to wrap up its most significant plot points in only 134 pages, quite a few of them with illustrations on them. It very successfully introduces Nate and gets the reader invested in wanting him to succeed, and provides enough detail to make the book’s world interesting without overburdening it with needless exposition. It also leaves a few plot points deliberately unresolved, whetting the reader’s appetite for future books in the series.
Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix was written by R.L. LaFevers and illustrated (quite capably) by Kelly Murphy. It retails for $16.00, but can easily be found for less. The first chapter is available on the author’s website for free, should you want a preview.
Wired: A really fun book to read together or for young readers to tackle on their own. Refreshingly different enough from most other books aimed at young readers to make it fun for adults, too.
Tired: It is a bit trite to have a young protagonist be an orphan, though it’s important to note that Nate’s parents are thus far only presumed dead.
Conclusion: Highly recommended. After we read it as a family, my kids fought over who would get to read it solo first.
(Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of the book from the author.)