My older daughter loves to read nonfiction books, but when it comes to fiction, she is a somewhat reluctant reader. She enjoys hearing me read stories to her, but she isn't always eager to read chapter books on her own. I have found several books that engaged her enough to want to keep reading, but many of the series available for middle-grade readers lack depth and often feature characters who aren't the best role models.
Our family enjoys fairy tales and fantasy literature, so I was intrigued when I learned about R. K. Mortenson's Christian fantasy series featuring Landon Snow. These books for middle-grade readers are action packed, and they incorporate biblical themes. They have characteristics in common with Alice
in Wonderland, the Narnia books, and other children's literature. Cory Godbey illustrated the covers and the interior of the books, which have an illustration on the first page of each chapter. There are five books in the Landon Snow series:
Landon Snow and the Auctor's Riddle
Landon Snow and the Auctor's Riddle begins as Landon and his family travel to Button Up, Minnesota, to visit his grandparents and celebrate his eleventh birthday. Grandpa Karl gives him a special gift--an antique Bible that once belonged to Bartholomew G. Benneford, an eccentric local legend who founded the Bartholomew G. Benneford House of Knowledge and Adventure, better known as the Button Up Library, or BUL.
One night in his grandfather's study, the pages of Landon's Bible start turning themselves and lead Landon to passages in Joel and Acts. After he reads them out loud, a wind blows through the room and a secret passage opens up in a bookcase! Landon follows the passage and finds himself inside the BUL, which looks very different at night. Talking books, a giant chessboard, and other strange sights await him. He finds himself on a trusty steed he calls Melech and in a land he has never seen before. He experiences "many absurd and fantastic things" on his adventure through the fantasyland. He learns he is on a mission to solve a puzzle called the Auctor's Riddle, and while on his quest he befriends some elflike beings in a green valley. He and his friends try to make sense of the clues that the poet/prophet Vates has left for him along the way.
I read this book as a read-aloud with my daughter, and I thought the book started a bit slowly and dragged in places. At times, I thought the descriptions were hard to follow and the scenes hard to imagine. However, the story contains a lot of adventure and plenty of action to keep reluctant readers turning the pages. Landon's younger sisters, Holly and Bridget, play a minor role in this opening book of the series, and the readers learn mostly superficial details about them, such as their hair color and the fact that Holly loves to count and Bridget loves to sleep.
Mortenson uses metaphors and other imagery to illustrate biblical principles, and these are explained for the reader at the book's conclusion. Landon learns that the Auctor is God, and throughout the series, his knowledge about Him deepens.
Landon Snow and the Shadow of Malus Quidam
As Landon Snow and the Shadow of Malus Quidam begins, Landon and his family are returning to Button Up several months later. Landon reluctantly shares the tale of his previous journey to another land with his younger sister Holly. She doesn't believe him at first, but she agrees to meet him late one night in their grandfather's study. This time, both Landon and Holly take the secret passage to the library, and eerie shadows follow them. Holly is convinced by these shape shifters to go with them, so Landon must go into the shadows after her. He is reunited with his friends in Wonderwood and must rescue his sister and fight the shadows of Malus Quidam, the prince of darkness. Landon has dreams and visions that help him on his quest, and the Auctor empowers him and provides light in the darkness.
This book is more intense than the first book, and some of the scenes might scare young readers. The themes of good and evil, light and darkness are clearly contrasted in the story. Landon lies to his teacher at the beginning of the book, but he acknowledges that he was wrong to do so. Landon also begins to show signs of affection for Ditty.
Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum
This book begins with Landon, who is now almost 12, having a strange vision about animals while he's playing football. Landon, Holly, and Bridget return to their grandparents' home and visit the beloved town library, this time in the morning before the library opens. They find an unlocked entrance, but rather than entering Wonderwood, they end up on a ship in an unknown ocean. They try to figure out where they are and where they are going and realize another ship is following them--Noah's Ark, where their friends are waiting to help them on their latest mission!
They must rescue animals from Wonderwood that have been captured and imprisoned by Arcans (evil shadow beings). The Arcans, who have hollow eyes and wear animal skulls on their heads, are the most imposing threat for Landon yet, but the Auctor again leads him in his battle against his foes.
Landon Snow and the Volucer Dragon
When the Snow siblings return to Wonderwood in Landon Snow
and the Volucer Dragon, a surly boy named Max secretly follows them there after eavesdropping on their conversation about their earlier adventures. The Arcans have taken over Wonderwood. Volucir Ignis, a dragon whose name means "flying fire," has enslaved the valley folk and is burning all the forests. Bridget discovers that she can speak to the animals, and Landon finds that he isn't the only Snow whose visions can help them save their friends. This book has a cliffhanger ending and sets the stage for the series finale.
Landon Snow and the Auctor's Kingdom
Landon Snow and the Auctor's Kingdom provides an exciting conclusion to the series. Landon, Holly, and Bridget return to Wonderwood with the help of their grandfather. The Arcan army and the dragon are still in power, and Landon needs to remember in the midst of fierce battles that the Auctor is with him and will show him the way to His kingdom if he has faith. It's a satisfying ending to the series, and the author succeeds at sharing biblical truths about the gospel in an allegorical way. He also explains the imagery and symbolism so that it can be understood by young readers.
Although any of the books could stand alone and still be enjoyed, in order to get the full impact of the message and to see the development of the characters, I would recommend reading them all in order. The Landon Snow series would be a good one to include in your homeschool library, and I look forward to discussing it with my daughter further as she continues to read the series. The paperbacks are less than $5 each, so it's an inexpensive set that's likely to appeal to boys and girls alike.