This week’s book is Children of the Dawnland by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Micheal Gear.

Children of the Dawnland is a middle-grade book that takes place at the end of the ice age. It stars a young girl named Twig, who’s her tribes newest Spirit Dreamer.

First and foremost, I need to talk about the setting. The introduction makes it quite clear that the authors (both archaeologists) have studied the Paleo-Indian tribes, and this is their thoughts on what it might have been like for the Clovis tribes during their last few days.

A heavy focus is put on spirits. Everything has a soul attributed to it in some way. They talk about the Cloud People and the Star Tribes. The glaciers are the Ice Giants. The first chapter is even told from the point of view of a tern. The writing never dwells on it, it merely presents this as a matter of fact, and that helps sell the setting. I never really felt myself looking down at their primitive beliefs. Instead, I accepted that this was the easiest way for them to understand how the world worked.

In contrast to the setting, the characters are a little flat. Twig wants to learn to be a Spirit Dreamer. Her best friend, Greyhawk, is a coward, but brave when it really counts. They’re not bad characters – Twig is easy to relate to, and there’s a certain gratitude whenever you see Greyhawk’s inner bravery peak through, but there’s just not all that much depth to them.

The conflict is twofold. First, there’s the Thornback Tribe, that’s been raiding other villages. And there’s Twig’s dream of the Star Tribes attacking them, which is complicated by the fact that Twig’s mother, the tribe’s current Spirit Dreamer, doesn’t really want her daughter to be one. Twig’s conflict between her desire to be a Spirit Dreamer and her loyalty to her mother add some touches of depth to Twig, and I would have liked to see a bigger focus on that side of things. The Thornback Tribe… I’m not sure how necessary they were. For the most part, they’re an off-screen menace, mostly serving as something to distract the elders. They only really make a solid appearance near the end of the book, and I wonder if that time might have been better spent on Twig’s spirit journey.

Despite these flaws, the book is very enjoyable. It’s easy to read, even when dealing with the symbolic spirit world. The Gears love for the time period shows through in their writing. But this is also their first children’s book, and I think that shows, too. I’m interested in reading some of their adult books and seeing how they measure up. I wouldn’t rush out to buy this book, but if you’ve got older kids looking for something new and different, or if you have an interest in the Ice Age, this book is worth looking into.

 

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