Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Changers: The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm
H.K. Varian
Simon & Schuster, 2016 167 pgs.
Grades 3-6
Changers Series #1

Meet the Changers: a group of seventh graders with the ability to transform into mythical animals. Alternating points of view tell the story through the eyes of all four of the young people. This introductory volume starts with Makoto (or Mack as he prefers to be called) as the narrator, who is the boy featured on the cover. Mack and three other seemingly unrelated classmates are sent to an "independent study" phys-ed class where a friend of Mack's grandfather shares startling news: the tweens are actually "Changers", an ancient species of humans with the ability to transform into animals with magical and supernatural powers. Through the power of a "changing stone" the young people discover what mythical form their transformation will reveal. Mack is a Kitsune, a legendary fox from Japan, Gabriella is a Nahual, a Mexican dog or, in Gabriella's case, a Jaguar, Fiona is an Irish Selkie, and Darren is an Impundulu, a mythical bird from South Africa. The youths must now learn how to transform at will and to control their new found abilities. Their new teacher must train them quickly for a threat looms. An ancient horn has been rediscovered by an evil enemy with the ability to control the Changers at will. One thousand years ago, when the horn was last used, four young Changers (including the teacher and a surprise family member) were able to battle the evil, since the horn's powers did not effect them. Will the original Changers still be able to resist the power of the horn? How will Mack and his new friends contribute to the battle? Find out in this new series opener due to be released in June.

The concept behind "The Animorphs", a series wildly popular twenty-years ago, has been reconfigured with this rebooted version which is more mythology than science fiction. Readers not quite ready for Percy Jackson or Harry Potter will love this new series, featuring actual magical creatures from ancient legends around the world. The cast is multicultural, as are the myths, exposing readers to creatures previously unknown to our eurocentric heritage (with the exception of the Irish Selkie). In 167 pages the author covers a lot of ground and the action never slows down. The book reads quickly and the change of narration flows seamlessly and is surprisingly not confusing. The reading level and length is perfect for kids graduating from early chapter books, but not quite ready for Potter, along the same lines as the "I Survived" books. The characters are diverse in both ethnicity and personality, yet do not became charactertures and are further developed than most characters found in books on this level. Varian introduces the players and the framework for the magical super powers, brings in a villain, produces a conflict, resolves, and gets out, while leaving a dangling thread for the next series installment. The book is tight and not bogged down with unnecessary subplots. Classic mythology mixed with current sensibilities, this new series is sure to be a hit with the target audience and is well worth the time spent reading.

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