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Flunking Sainthood

A new read-aloud classic

Do you have a 4th-7th grader who enjoys fantasy fiction?

For fun this month I listened to The Flint Heart, a middle-grade fantasy novel by Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia) and her husband John. They “freely adapted” this from an out-of-print 1910 novel by Eden Philpotts (who, as it turns out, was a guy — did we know this?). It’s a whimsical fantasy that begins in the Stone Age when an overambitious tribesman has a medicine man make him a flint heart, a charm that is guaranteed to turn his heart to stone so he can oppress all his neighbors and get more sheep, caves, women, etc. The flint heart wreaks great havoc and so is buried with the tribesman when he dies, only to be unearthed in the nineteenth century by a kindly English farmer who becomes a veritable monster overnight.

The heroes of the story are the farmer’s children, Charles and Unity, who go to great lengths to rescue their beloved father, befriending fairies and being introduced to the magical world of the fey. The fairies help them save their father, but almost immediately thereafter the fairies turn to the children for help to resolve their own problems with the pernicious flint heart.

What makes this story so charming is not its plot but its characters. I believe that this is the first time in a book review where I have ever stated that my favorite character was a water bottle, but there it is: my favorite character was a water bottle.

You kind of have to read the book to understand that.

This is not the edge-of-your-seat fantasy fiction a la Rick Riordan; it’s a gentler classical fantasy that will remind readers of Frances Hodgson Burnett or Edith Nesbit. It’s charming. Read it aloud as a family.

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