THE BOOK OF THREE by Lloyd Alexander

While I’m sure my Kindergarten and First Grade teachers must have read aloud to my class, the first time I ever recall a teacher reading a book aloud was in fifth grade, and that book was Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three.

It was a joyful, overwhelming experience. I decided then and there I would become both an author and an assistant pig keeper like the hero, Taran.

Since then, I have read and reread The Book of Three many times. It is, without a doubt, one of my all-time favorites.

And I’m not the only one. One of my closest friends and fellow authors named her first-born after one of the characters! Our friendship was meant to be. (Full disclosure, my partner limited me to only naming our cats after Book of Three characters.)

Published in 1964 and the first volume of Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles series, the novel is based on Welsh mythology. The story follows the adventures of Taran, who longs to be a great hero rather than the lowly, frustrated Assistant Pig Keeper of an oracular pig. (A pig who tells the future? Who knew!)

He gets his chance when the pig is kidnapped. This is high fantasy laced with humor from the very first, and Taran speaks for children everywhere who would rather be hammering out swords than horseshoes.

Taran faces terrifying villains (including, in the second volume, Newbery winner The Black Caldron, an army of corpses; precursor to the current zombie craze). But he’s helped by a lovable cast of characters, from the furry, ever-hungry creature Gurgi who speaks in rhymes (“Oh, munchings and crunchings!”), to proud, stubborn Eilonwy, she of the flaming red hair, to the fumbling, hyperbole-prone Fflewder Fflam, a bard whose lyre snaps a string whenever he fibs.

As far as I’m concerned, this is about as perfect a book as you can get. (Is a lyre string snapping somewhere? I may be speaking in hyperboles, but I’m not fibbing.) Beautiful language, marvelous characters, and the very best of classic quests. Apparently others agree, as in 2012 a School Library Journal survey ranked The Book of Three number 18 among all-time best children’s novels.

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