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Aidan of Oren: The Journey Begins    by Alan St. Jean & Judith Friedman order for
Aidan of Oren
by Alan St. Jean
Order:  USA  Can
Moo Press, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Over the past few years, the fantasy genre has gained popularity. Epic fantasy, in particular, is making a come back since The Lord of the Rings hit theatres. Most epic fantasies, however, are not aimed at younger readers. This one is.

Aidan lives with his grandmother in the town of Oren in the country of Lionsgate. He spends his days playing with his two best friends from the orphanage next door Lilly and McKenzie - and he spends his nights listening to his grandmother and her friends tell fantastic stories while quilting around the fire. A few days before his 13th birthday, Aidan learns that some of these stories are true. It turns out that Aidan is the child prophesied to bring peace to the land of Lionsgate. In order to fulfill his destiny, Aidan must travel to the Valley of the Elves in order to learn their ways. Though he does not feel he is ready to undertake such a difficult task, Aidan bravely faces the challenges ahead, and does his best to protect Lilly and McKenzie, who accompany him.

A little longer than typical chapter books, Aidan of Oren will capture young readers' attention. The story starts with Aidan having a mysterious dream and the action never stops. The narrative is heavily populated with fairy-tale style drawings by Judith Friedman, which help the reader understand what is unfolding. The chapters are very short (brief enough to keep those with short attention spans involved), and never introduce too much at once. The story ends with the children reaching the Valley of the Elves, leaving the reader anxiously awaiting the next episode to find out if Aidan can restore peace to Lionsgate.

While elementary to middle school children will delight in following Aidan on his journey, older readers may not be as pleased. Many of the conflicts that Aidan and his friends encounter have deus ex machina resolutions which may cause jaded readers to scoff (much like Aidan 's pet falcon Charles does when he hears of the outcomes of these exploits from which he always hides). However, some more advanced readers might appreciate getting lost in an epic fantasy that can easily be read in a day - something hard to achieve with those written for adults.

Alan St. Jean's Aidan of Oren: The Journey Begins is a delightful introduction to epic fantasy for those starting chapter books. Judith Friedman's illustrations wonderfully capture the fairy-tale essence of the story and make it ideal for reading aloud.

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