The Guardians series | Book review

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

It’s one of those ideas so clever, you have to wonder why anybody — maybe even you, yourself! — didn’t think of it sooner. The idea is simple, too, as well as smart: Bring together various childhood mythological figures, such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman, all under the watchful and beneficent eye of the Man in the Moon. Known as the Guardians, their common mission is to protect Earth’s children.

But it took Louisiana artist William Joyce to imagine it all, in a process he recently described to us as channeling reported fact rather than merely inventing stories. Whatever their source, what stories he reveals! Tales of Ombric the ancient wizard, a man with owl familiars and a posse of children under his tutelage; Nicholas St. North, ringleader of Russian bandits whose wild thieving ways are forever altered by the good citizens of Santoff Claussen; Toothiana, queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies, daughter of a maharaja’s slave and a magical winged warrior; and E. Aster Bunnymund, an inscrutable giant pooka (think of Jimmy Stewart’s six-foot-tall bunny friend in Harvey) whose mysterious zen calm can only be interrupted by the excitement of consuming chocolate. There’s so much creativity in these books, they’re liable to burst your kids’ bookshelves apart.

If only the characters were as richly developed in the film inspired by Joyce’s book series. But whereas The Guardians series tells how they came to be, Rise of the Guardians launches into an adventure heavy on action and set hundreds of years later, when they know almost everything about each other.

The movie’s lots of fun—indeed, we recently attended two separate screenings and it’s definitely a huge hit with young fans, who cheered loud and long, even as the credits rolled. But the real magic is found here, in the still-evolving book series written and illustrated by Joyce. The main series of novels, aimed at middle-school readers, currently comprises three volumes (available in a handsomely designed box set). Joyce’s omniscient-narrator approach folds in plenty of nifty words sure to stretch kids’ vocabulary and, if they’re curious enough to consult a map, their knowledge of geography too, given the global span of the saga. Meanwhile, Joyce’s lush and whimsical art fill two picture books for young readers. (Click through the slideshow for cover art and some of Joyce’s concept sketches.)

With either approach, the books contain great life lessons about friendship and loyalty. And they contain plenty of children for young readers to indentify with—most of all Katherine, the eldest child of her village, who finds herself caught between childhood and responsibility. Her coming-of-age arc provide a great number of the books’ insights, such as her first understanding that true friendship means two people can be comfortable just being together, with no words needing to be spoken. Best of all, Joyce conveys a simple, special truth throughout the series by reiterating that the first and most powerful spell of all consists of just six words: "I believe, I believe, I believe."

Amid a gift-giving season in which parents, aunts and uncles have an (over)abundance of book series for kids to choose from, The Guardians novels stand out as a top selection.

The individual Guardians novels, from Atheneum Books for Young Readers, are $15 each; the box set is $45. The Guardians of Childhood picture books are $18 each. You can also enter to win one of five box sets in Time Out Chicago KidsGuardians giveaway.