Recommended for ages 10+
When the co-creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra writes a new middle grade fantasy series, you read that book ASAP.
In an Italian Renaissance-inspired fantasy world called Zizzolan, we meet 12 year-old Giacomo, a young artist who’s living on the streets after his parents’ death. He lives in a society where Geniuses – animal muses that inspire humans to creativity – are outlawed. When Geniuses are taken from their humans, the humans become empty; dead inside – Lost Souls. This was Giacomo’s parents’ fate. When a Genius discovers Giacomo, he knows he’s in big trouble. He tries to get the bird companion to leave him alone, but the Genius isn’t having it. Just when Giacomo’s luck is about to run out, he’s rescued by a group of teens and tweens that bring him back to the studio where they are students of Pietro Vasari, who trains the kids and their Geniuses in sacred geometry, which will allow them to channel their creative powers. Before Giacomo is able to train for long, though, Vasari tells the group that a renegade artist named Ugolino is on the search for the Sacred Tools that will give him the power to destroy the world and anyone in his way; they need to find him and stop him. Ugolino won’t be so easy to bring down, though – he’s accompanied by his own monstrous work of art: Zanobius, a golem-like sculpture brought to life to carry out Ugolino’s bidding. Giacomo and his new friends set out on a quest that may cost them their lives and their Geniuses – can they save the world?
This is a deep book. DiMartino dives into some massive ideas here, particularly, Sacred Geometry: universal patterns used in the designs of everything in our reality. Think of a spiral: there are spiral galaxies; there are spirals in shells; a chameleon’s tail curls into a spiral, and when you look at it from above, a hurricane appears as a spiral. That’s sacred geometry: math, art, proportion, it all comes together in music and nature. That DiMartino chose such a weighty subject shouldn’t be a surprise; both Avatar and Korra; two hugely popular animated series, delved deeply into Buddhism, religious and cultural conflict, immigration, and identity. DiMartino isn’t afraid to talk to kids about weighty matters; he’s able to communicate layered, complex concepts to his audience. That said, while this is a book aimed at an 8-12 audience, some readers on the younger end of the range may struggle. I’d definitely booktalk this to my 5th and 6th graders, and I’d push this on my teens, too; this is a good crossover to YA. Black and white illustrations add interest and depth to the book, and help illustrate some more abstract concepts.
This is literary fantasy, and it’s beautifully written fantasy. If you’ve got fantasy readers, I think this would be a great book to introduce them to, and it would spark some great discussion. Wnat to read an excerpt? (You know you want to read an excerpt.) Head over to the Rebel Genius Tumblr and download one.