Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

The Lost Kingdom

The Lost Kingdom

Fall 2013 Fiction
Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Author: Matthew J. Kirby
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 9780545274265
Hardcover Price: $17.99

For years, Billy Bartram has longed to accompany his father on botanical expeditions around the New World, finding interesting specimens for study. So when he is offered the opportunity to travel to the frontier on a special expedition organized by the great Benjamin Franklin himself, Billy is eager for the chance to prove himself. The trip turns out to be a bit different than he expected, however. Instead of traveling only with his father in search of new plants, Billy finds himself on a flying ship with a varied group of philosophers and one stowaway girl, searching for a lost Welsh settlement in the frontier in the hope of gaining allies against the French. When the ship stops at a Kanonsionni trading post to take on an interpreter, Billy learns of his father's deep-seated prejudices against all Indians. Over the course of the disastrous journey, he must work to disentangle his own values and beliefs from those of the philosophers on the expedition.

This novel combines fantasy, historical fiction, and high adventure in a plot that is both fast-paced and thoughtful. Kirby seems to have done considerable research on the real-life naturalists Billy and John Bartram, and their differing political positions and relationships with regard to the Indian tribes they encountered. Furthermore, the novel conveys a sense of both the intellectual excitement of early American philosophical circles, and also the less savory aspects of the Enlightenment. The secondary characters are not as richly developed as Billy himself is, and some of them, including Andrew, the Indian interpreter, and one or two of the nuttier philosophers, seemed flat. Nevertheless, lovers of history, fantasy, and adventure will enjoy this novel.

Naomi Lesley   ©2013 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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