When I was a kid (about the ages of my boys now – 10-12), I used to love exploring.
My friends and I would explore all the time! We did a lot of exploring at church. We were always looking for a small space out of the way that we could call our hideout or base. There was a small room under stairs that led to the baptistry. It led to a crawlspace under the platform in the auditorium. It was a little too dark and cramped to use as a base of operations, so we kept looking. We found another great spot upstairs near the sound room that led into an attic space over the church offices. It was a little too cold and filled with spiderwebs for our taste. We finally settled on setting up our base under a huge pine tree at the front of the building. Once under the canopy of the tree’s branches, they came close enough to the ground that those on the outside could not see you. Aside from the occasional sap on your hands and church clothes, the only trouble with this base was that it an obvious choice, and so it was also base to many other kids. It was kind of hard to have secret meetings for your spy organization with all those other kids around!
Some of my favorite expeditions were the ones I had with my best friend, Danny. He and I would ride bikes from his house to the edge of the neighborhood where there was a large plot of undeveloped land. I don’t know how many acres this land was, but enough to where once you were in the bushes and trees, you couldn’t see the houses anymore. There were creeks to explore and trees to climb, and there was even a pit. We found so many things that others had carried out to the woods and discarded. Refrigerators. Cars. Lots of hubcaps. We had a lot of fun!
Fred, Con, Lila, and Max have to find their way out of the Amazonian jungle when their pilot has a heart attack and their plane crashes. Fred and the girls are all of 12 years old, while little Max is only 5. They must face many dangers, such as insects, piranha, caiman, and harsh elements. They will learn to create fire, make a shelter for themselves, and build a raft to travel down the river. What they find in the jungle is not only shocking but may also be just the thing that saves their lives.
The Explorer is a decent middle-grade read. The sentences are short, just shy of being terse. I know that sounds negative, but it should be an easy read for your younger readers.
I found this book at Half Price Books and was intrigued by the cover art and synopsis. But, when it came right down to it, I had a hard time making it through the first half of the book. Even though the story begins in medias res, it takes a while for anything interesting to happen. An impatient reader might not last too long with this book. I do feel like it had a nice payoff at the end of the book.
One thing that bugged me about this book was the attempt at – I don’t even know what to call it – metaphorical language. The author was always making comparisons between things, colors, or concepts that are extremely difficult to relate. This type of writing was throughout the book. I’m sure the author thought of this as expertly creative and something that would help to set her book apart from all the others. I found it irritating and distracting from the actual story. For example:
“Then the fin dipped, disappeared, and out from the water leaped an arc of pinkish-gray body, curving against the rain and the thunder-colored sun.”p.136
Thunder-colored sun? What does that even mean? As an adult, I can deduce that this means that the sun was obscured by a thunderstorm. Would an 8-10-year-old understand that?
Here’s another one:
“He had never been so frightened in his life. But they were alive. He held that thought in his fist, tight against his skin.”p.141
Obviously, you can’t hold a thought in your fist.
The book becomes a little more thoughtful about half-way through.
“The greatest threat to living things is man, which is not a thought to make one proud.”p.195
I don’t believe the author is suggesting that humanity is a blight to the Earth, and the planet would be better off with us. I know that’s a theme that seems to be popular in today’s society. She is reminding the readers to be responsible. It is important to interact with our environment thoughtfully and respectfully and not to engage in needless destruction.
The characters in this story are reasonably well-developed, considering the intended audience of this book. Fred struggles with his relationship with his father, who seems to have very little time for him. Fred is concerned that if they do make it out of the jungle, his father will not have the time to be bothered with coming to meet him, but will instead send one of his employees. This part of the story cut deeply into my heart. I know I am guilty of the same type of behavior as Fred’s father. It’s not because of a lack of love for my children. It is a difference in priorities – priorities that need to reevaluation. As I write this, my youngest is asking to play a game with me…
Con lives with her great-aunt, who wants very much for Con to learn to live as a proper lady. Con is a knowledgeable and independent young lady who bristles at the thought of being told what to do. She rather enjoys exploring, running, and climbing trees. At first, being in the jungle seemed awful to her, but she learned to appreciate the freedom. When thinking of home, her thoughts grow dark. She admits that she secretly wishes that the people around her were dead. I believe, as dark as this sounds, it is a normal part of growing up. It’s not so much that the child wishes others to die, but that they strongly desire to be apart from those who would impose their will upon them: parents, teachers, other adults, or older children. They are looking for independence. Con wants to make up her own mind – make her own choices.
Lila has a strong heart. She is fiercely protective of her little brother, Max. At only five years of age, he faces many more risks than the other members of their party. Lila does her best to watch out for him, but he has so much energy, and he is continuously trying to wander off into the jungle without supervision. She really has her hands full with him, but she never gives up on trying to protect him.
If you can make it past the weird descriptions in this book, it’s actually a pretty good read. I would recommend this book for any middle-grade reader that is looking for an adventure.
If you’ve made it to this point in the post – Thank You for reading!
I don’t always write these posts in a single sitting, so sometimes, I will come back with another thought before posting. In this case, I wanted to say, “Who am I kidding?!” I still love to explore. I’m the kind of person that loves to put the kids in the car and just start driving. Now that we live in a new state, there is so much to explore here. For example, the other day, we hopped the car, and then pulled up Google Maps to find a place to go. The first point of interest that came up was the Round Barn in Arcadia. What a cool place to find! Built in 1898, the round barn has been a sight to see along the historic Route 66. We punched it into the GPS and headed out.
Most of my favorite memories from my childhood were times when I traveled with my dad into Chicago. We explored many different parts of the city. But it wasn’t just the exploring that created the memories for me; it was the time spent with my dad.
If you have a little explorer at home, remember to take them on adventures. You don’t have to go to Chicago or travel very far from home. Just look for opportunities to help them see extraordinary things in what may to you appear to be ordinary.