Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud

Title: The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud
Series: The Amazing Tales of Max & Liz
Author: Jenny L. Cote
Genre: Mid-grade (8-12 yrs) Animal Adventure
Ratings: Craft—4, Content—5, Overall—4.0 out of 5 stars

Excerpt from “A Dark Night,” Chapter 1 of The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud:

The roar of thunder was deafening. The ground itself seemed to shake from the angry skies lashing out above. Nothing was beyond the reach of the storm. The lightning cracked in all directions, looking like the skeleton of a dead tree in the sky. The shadows of the unknown appeared for brief moments at a time, taunting him, serving only to make the dark night more terrifying. Why did dark shadows grow larger than their otherwise normal objects, turning them into grotesque beasts? He was breathless as he bolted out from under a tree after lightning struck nearby. The lightning was after him, or so he thought.

He ran until his legs ached from the effort. Where was he running? He knew of no safe place out here, but he reasoned that if he kept running, he was at least doing something to preserve his life. The rain blew sideways, stinging his eyes in a blinding fury. The thunder continued to jeer at him, laughing at his perilous condition. He tripped on an unseen rock and landed face first in a bog of slimy mud that covered the right side of his head. He tried desperately to shake the mud off as his feet sank into the dark, thick muck. He panicked as he struggled to free himself of its cold clutches. Finally, he broke loose and ran into the night.

A cat, a dog, and their mates help other animals to reach and survive life aboard Noah’s Ark.

The Craft: When you consider this novel’s target market is 8- to 12-year-olds, The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud can at first appear quite daunting, weighing in at over 400 pages. However, the reader is quickly rewarded with a whimsical look at Noah’s Ark from the point of view of the animals.

Not that the writing is perfect. The beginning is on the slow side. The middle sags in a couple of places. Some of the dialogue feels a bit long-winded, even for an older reader.

Yet the positives overcome these flaws. The likeable characters will make you laugh aloud, and all the dialects of the characters tickle the ears. A light suspense thread maintains the tension. Unexpected twists gives the reader fresh appreciation for a familiar story. Nor does Ms. Cote talk down to her readers: She retains a challenging style and a large vocabulary.

So while this was a story I could pick up and put down, it captured my imagination, and I always looked forward to returning to the story.

The Content: The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud doesn’t dumb down its content any more than its vocabulary. While a couple spots boarders on preachiness (the spouting off of more theology than fits a character or situation), the novel as a whole allows the truth to unfold naturally in the reader’s mind.

More than that, tougher issues are not shied away from. Topics touched on range from dealing with pride and fear to the responsibilities of leadership, the difficulties of death and God’s judgment to the deceptiveness of evil and warnings about how we judge others.

The result is a book you can sink your teeth into, not only as an 8-year-old, but even as a 28- or 58-year old.

Summary: While of unexpected length, The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud proves a fun read for mid-grade readers that offers a delightful perspective of familiar Bible story. Highly recommended for voracious mid-grade readers (8-12 years) and older readers with a sense of whimsy.

Ratings: Craft—4, Content—5, Overall—4.0 out of 5 stars

No comments: