THE GUARDIAN TEST (Legends of Lotus Island #1), by Christina Soontornvat and Kevin Hong, Scholastic Press, March 7, 2023, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 7-11)
If you’re looking for an entry point into fantasy for middle readers, then look no further — The Guardian Test, by Christina Soontornvat, is an excellent option.
Young Plum is shocked to discover that she’s been accepted to the Guardian Academy on Lotus Island, an elite school where kids learn how to transform into Guardians, magical creatures who are sworn to protect the natural world. The Guardian masters teach Plum and her friends how to communicate with animals and how to use meditation to strengthen their minds and bodies. All the kids also learn to fight, so they can protect the defenseless if needed.
To her dismay, Plum struggles at school. While her classmates begin to transform into amazing creatures, Plum can’t even seem to magic up a single feather! If she can’t embrace her inner animal form soon, she’ll have to leave school ― and lose the first group of real friends she’s ever known. —Synopsis provided by Scholastic Press
Author Christina Soontornvat is the author of more than 20 books for children and is a three-time Newbery Honor winning author — A Wish in the Dark, All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, and The Last Mapmaker. She’s written picture, early chapter and middle-grade books, which is probably part of the reason why The Guardian Test is such a success. Soontornvat knows her audience.
At the center of The Guardian Test is Plum a girl who’d rather stay home and garden than move away to train at a magical school. Over the course of the book, Plum realizes she has strengths and talents that not only set her apart, they set her up to become a hero.
At 160 pages and sprinkled with illustrations throughout, The Guardian Test is perfect for readers who are moving out of beginning chapter books but want a grander story. Soontornvat’s prose is not overly complicated, and yet, she provides an expansive world with complex characters that readers can really sink their teeth into.
With short chapters and engaging text, The Guardian Test is a fast-moving story of growth and friendship. It’s a great first book in the Legends of Lotus Island series, and I can’t wait to read its follow-up, Into the Shadow Mist, when it comes out this July.
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