I am on the second book in the Mistmantle Chronicles series by M.I. McAllister, Urchin and the Heartstone. I bought the first book of the series, Urchin of the Riding Stars, on a whim--Barnes and Noble was clearancing out the hard cover editions and I happened to have a gift card (birthday gift from my hubby). I had never heard of it. It looked cute. It had a squirrel with a sword on it :).
Well, I opened that book and discovered the entrancing world of Mistmantle. If anyone out there remembers the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH...you will love this series. THIS is good children's writing. Mrs. McAllister assumes her child readers actually have a brain. She uses big words--but appropriate words--for this grade level, which is 3rd-6th. It is INTELLIGENTLY written. The characters are well-crafted and loveable. The plot twists and turns enough to keep anyone interested, young or old, but doesn't confuse the reader. A perfect balance of complexity.
Urchin of the Riding Stars opens with Urchin's birth, when his mother arrives on Mistmantle Island--the reason she is there is not disclosed. He is found by the island priest and several others who know that his unique appearance makes him special, as does his unusual fur color. Urchin soon falls in love with the idea of working at the king's castle. Adventure surrounds and ensnares him, as the evil Husk tries to steal the throne from King Crispin.
I love that Mrs. McAllister peppers details in, and then explains their significance later through the action. Those hints don't seem arbitrarily placed, though; they flow naturally with the story and then later, when their significance is revealed, you find yourself saying, "Oh, so that's why..."
I can't say enough about this series. I love it. One of my homeschool friends has an eight-year-old daughter--but she reads at about a fifth grade level--who has read the entire series twice and begged for it as a Christmas gift. So it ain't just me :).
(I'm planning on giving away a copy of Urchin of the Riding Star soon. It's on order...it's on its way...and I will announce when it's time for the giveaway. I'll post on my blog in a couple of weeks when the giveaway starts.)
Oh, and Mrs. McAllister is a minister's wife--the books have a definite Christian backbone, although they are published through a secular publisher (Miramax).
There are five books in the series, and I plan to add all of them to my collection.