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The Blackthorn Key, by Kevin Sands
Christopher Rowe is apprenticed to the kindly Master Benedict, an apothecary in 1660s London. Like all children, Christopher likes to push boundaries and get out of work to play with his friends, but he’s still very appreciative of the fact that if Benedict had not selected him from the orphanage, he would be living on the streets. When a killer starts targeting apothecaries, Christopher needs to use all of the knowledge and wisdom Benedict has taught him to stay safe and bring an end to the killer’s reign of terror.
The Blackthorn Key, by Kevin Sands lends itself well to reading aloud as a family, or as a book club pick. Sands uses cliff-hangers and foreshadowing to great effect, which means you can have great discussions with your child, asking them to predict what will happen next. This book is a well-written thriller, appropriate for the ten and up crowd, and will even keep parents guessing.
Besides being just plain fun, The Blackthorn Key is also very educational. My bachelors degree is in history, and I can tell you that the circumstances of Christopher’s life and the world around him are remarkably accurate. Noticing what is the same and different about Christopher’s life will be an engaging learning experience. My favorite lessons, however, come from the codes that Christopher, his master, and their adversaries use throughout the story. Not only will you and your child learn about different types of secret codes, but in breaking them (with Christopher’s help) you’ll learn important principles used in more modern forms of coding. That’s right, a historical fiction novel about a boy who lived in the seventeenth century could kickstart a love of STEM (or at least tie history and technology together as subjects). You’re welcome.
Personally, I can’t wait to introduce this book to Monkey. When she’s big enough for chapter book read-alouds at bedtime, we’re going to have a lot of fun with this one. Christopher and his friends are bright children, with different strengths, but still believable. Their tween-aged view of the world leads to humorous exchanges even in the most serious of situations, keeping this story from getting too dark for its intended audience.
If you enjoy cheering on Christopher and his friends (and his pet pigeon), be sure to check out the sequels. So far there are three books in this series, so it should keep you busy for a while if you read a chapter or two every night. If it’s not your thing, no worries. The first book stands alone quite well, and when I learned of the sequels, they were a pleasant surprise. As for the sequels, I think you’ll find that the charm and excitement of the first book continues in the others, as well. As Christopher’s reputation increases and spreads, the missions with which he is entrusted carry ever greater odds, pushing his knowledge and ours to ever greater limits. So grab these books, some blankets, and your kids, and get ready for some cozy group reading. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. I give The Blackthorn Key, and its sequels, five eggs.
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Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
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