Have you ever heard of Kyle Shoop? That’s okay if you haven’t. He’s a young attorney/author with his first novel just recently published. Acea and the Animal Kingdom is a middle-grade novel about a boy who loves (most) animals. He wakes up one morning in a strange and somewhat frightening place. He soon learns the truth about where he is, a magical realm known as the Animal Kingdom because every person there has been turned into an animal by the angry wizard who ruled the kingdom. Now, it’s up to Acea to traverse each area of the Kingdom seeking keys, gifts, and the truth if he is to break the curse and return home. Some of the animals want to help and return to their former lives, but some have sided with the evil Sorcerer Vesuvius and will do anything they can to keep Acea from reaching his goal.
Even though it only Shoop’s freshman endeavour Acea and the Animal Kindgom is one of the better novels for young readers I’ve seen. Shoop is already a terrific storyteller, with a wonderfully vivid imagination which will suck readers into the novel for a fun, slightly scary, always exciting, emotional ride. This novel is clearly written for a young audience, and more specifically for Shoop’s wife’s elementary school students. It is not surprising then to find this novel is fun, exciting, a little scary, imaginative, unique, relatable and educational; in short, all the things you want from a middle-grade novel.
A very famous author, who I constantly refer to on this blog (sorry guys, I just really like his stuff), once said, “Writing imaginative tales for the young is like sending coals to Newcastle. For coals” (Neil Gaiman, M is for Magic). That said, Acea and the Animal Kingdom perfectly captures the imaginative nature of the young audience for which it is written. It succeeds in this because it does not create imagination for readers, rather it invites them to share in the author’s and Acea’s own imaginative adventures. During these adventures readers can experience highs and lows, excitement and fear, danger in the face of adversity and shelter in the comfort of good friends.
One of the absolute necessities of a good story, is the relatability of its characters to readers. Acea is definitely not the typical 12 year-old , but then, he doesn’t need to be. He is curious, good-natured, and brave. He accepts the reality of the magical kingdom he is thrust into with the perfect mix of wonder and practicality, noting things with a childlike simplicity like, “These magical aquarium tanks are huge!” (p. 21) He is what I believe most children wish themselves to be. This is not to say he is perfect. Acea makes many mistakes along his journey, and he only succeeds through the help of various friends, which is exactly what makes Acea a great hero. He is a special boy, no doubt about it, but he is imperfect in many ways just like every other 12 year-old, and not 12 year-old, alive.
Last, but certainly not least, this book is great for kids for its educational value. There are literally dozens of fun facts about various animals scattered throughout the pages, the knowledge of which helps Acea achieve his goals. For example, did you know that bats actually have great eyesight in the light? Or that the blue whale is the largest animal ever to exist on Earth? I didn’t before reading this. The educational value of this book is not surprising given it was inspired by elementary school students, and it is woven into the fabric of the story so well it doesn’t even seem like learning. Not only is it educational in terms of school and facts, it also teaches about friendship, family, believing in yourself, and never giving up. All lessons readers of any age could use in their lives.
I recommend this book to any children interested in animals, magic and adventure (who am I kidding, what kid doesn’t like those things?). But don’t get discouraged if you’re an adult (let’s face it if you’re reading blogs you’re at least adultish), Acea and the Animal Kingdom is a fun ride and an easy read, which will take you back to simpler times when your only worry was saving a magical kingdom of animals from evil sorcerers so you could be reunited with your family. And who hasn’t been there?
Check out the author’s page where you can get more info, read a sample and purchase your own copy of Acea and the Animal Kingdom:
Or you can buy the book here: