The Flint Heart — Katherine Paterson & John Paterson

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The Flint Heart is a fairy tale adapted from the work of Eden Phillpotts, a prolific writer who lived from 1862 to 1960 and told stories set in his beloved Devon county moors. Katherine Paterson, Newbery and National Book Award-winning writer, and her husband John, base this book-length tale on Phillpotts’ style as well as his imaginary worlds. It is a large, heavy, beautiful book with an amazing amount of white space, thick coated pages, and gorgeous illustrations by John Rocco who worked at Dreamworks on Shrek and at Walt Disney Imagineering and drew the art for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

At first, the language seems very simple and the story very broadly drawn, as if it is carefully rendered for unsophisticated readers. But first impressions can be misleading and this one is. The Patersons have filled the pages with charming characters, captivating names—like Jacky Toads, a Zagabog and a Snick, a pixie who reads dictionaries and a philosopher fairy king who dispenses judgment based on Point of View. Small children will love the illustrations and the story. Older children—no limits on age–will love the clever wordplay and humor.

In The Flint Heart, the region of Dartmoor is plagued from prehistory by a dark magic encapsulated in a rock chip strung on a leather cord. Place it around your neck, or even in your pocket, and all the light and warmth and kindness goes right out of you, to be replaced by homicidal, self-centered, authoritarian, barbaric behavior that makes a shambles of your community and cannot be resisted. Shades of Tolkien and that cursed ring, although Tolkien’s ring was written after Phillpott’s work.

How a couple of brave and imaginative children, a badly injured German hot-water bottle named Bismark and the helpful fairies, pixies and forest creatures defeat the flint heart is the central quest of the book but the digressions are as entertaining as the story. Read it and learn why the tortoise really won the race and what actually frightened Little Miss Muffet. Multiply naughts to discover why you can’t be marked off for them on an exam. Enjoy the interesting vocabulary and a tale told in nineteenth-century language smoothed out to make perfect sense to a twenty-first-century child.

The Flint Heart is fun and it doesn’t dumb anything down for children. That alone is worth the book—no least-common-denominator, one-syllable-from-an-approved-list-of-age-appropriate-vocabulary words, as suitable for a chimp as a child, in this adventure. (Deep apologies to primates.) There is a moral to this story but it doesn’t get in the way. And the human, beast, hot-water bottle and fairy/pixie worlds live more or less happily-ever-after once the heart meets its ultimate fate—with a surprise twist. No spoilers. Grab a willing kid and The Flint Heart and settle in to find out for yourself.    

The Flint Heart   Katherine Paterson & John Paterson | Candlewick Press  2011

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