Forest of Wonders (Wing & Claw: Book 1)

Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard) moves from historical fiction into the fantasy genre in this trilogy debut filled with stalwart friends, ethical quandaries and touches of magic.

Twelve-year-old Raffa Santana, who lives on the edge of the Forest of Wonders, has an unusual talent for making healing potions with herbs and plants. When Raffa mixes botanicals, he experiences a kind of synesthesia that tells him whether his formula is perfect, a little off, or downright dangerous. His cousin Garith calls him a "baby genius," but Raffa's ever-critical father, Mohan, cautions that "Talent... [is] no substitute for experience." When Raffa finds an injured bat and tries to heal it with a rare red vine, the plant has an unintended side effect: it gives the tiny, bright-eyed creature the power of speech. "SKEETO!"--short for mosquito--is the hungry little bat's first raspy word. The boy names his new friend Echo. The gentle story takes a suspenseful turn when Raffa heads off to the capital city of Gilden to warn Garith about the red vine's dangerous powers. It's here that Raffa learns about the Chancellor's cruel and ambitious plan to use the red vine to turn innocent animals into tools of ill purpose.

While the adorable talking animals will win hearts, the complex ethical dilemmas Raffa faces about how to use (or not use) his talents lend a maturity to the narrative. Still, Park's choice of simple diction always keeps the story accessible. True hearts and true friends prevail in Forest of Wonders, and readers will anxiously await the trilogy's next installment. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services librarian, Latah County Library District (Idaho)

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