• Happy birthday Jules Feiffer (The Phantom Tollbooth) and Ashley Wolff (Miss Bindergarten books).
  • It’s the birth date of Mary Mapes Dodge (1831–1905), Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, and Charles Mikolaycak (1937–1993), Babushka.
  • Happy birthday Michigan, admitted as the 26th U.S. state in 1837.
  • In 1863, during the American Civil War, Governor of Massachusetts John Albion Andrew receives permission from the Secretary of War to raise a militia organization for men of African descent. Read Which Way Freedom by Joyce Hansen, Riot by Walter Dean Meyers, and From Slave to Soldier by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Brian Floca.

Today we celebrate Australia Day, when in 1788 the first settlement was established at Port Jackson, now part of Sydney. The Australian writing and illustrating community seems to me to be the most vibrant and original group of children’s book creators working any place in the world. In a few short years Australian writer Marcus Zusak has distinguished himself as the premier writer for young adults with titles like The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger.

Our Australian author of the day, John Flanagan, wrote the Rangers Apprentice series, which first appeared in the United States five years ago. I picked it up because it was consistently recommended as a no-fail book for fourth through sixth graders by both booksellers and teachers. If you are hunting for a book for this age group that will engage boys and girls, readers and nonreaders, the series contains pure magic.

At the beginning of the series in The Ruins of Gorlan readers meet Will, who was left as an orphan in the care of Baron Arald. Raised in this European medieval society by the Baron, Will and the rest of the wards become apprentices if they are chosen by a person who wants to train them for a profession. All of Will’s companions receive their heart’s delight—cooking, diplomacy, or battle school. But Will finds himself the apprentice of a shifty, strange Ranger, called Halt, who begins to teach the boy how to serve the kingdom. Since a huge war is brewing, the Rangers will be needed, as they have been before, to combat the evil Morgarath.

Both Will and Halt emerge as fabulous characters. Readers cheer on the boy as he learns his craft and helps his fellow ward Horace turn the tables on some Battle School bullies. In the final scenes, the stakes are raised as Will and Halt take on the almost invincible Kalkara. Epic fantasy, an orphan boy longing for his unknown father, the conflict of good and evil, and training for a special place in society—all these components have been used many times before. But because Flanagan has a genius for storytelling, by building tension and creating dramatic scenes, the book is much greater than the sum of its parts. Both character and action driven, it compels readers to finish this story and continue the series.

The series has sold over two millions copies worldwide, and a movie has been in development for some time. Rather than wait for it to appear in a theater near you, pick up these books to celebrate Australia Day. And don’t just pass them to the children in your life. Just like Philip Pullman and Stephanie Meyer, John Flanagan has as many devoted readers among adults as he does children.

Here’s a passage from The Ruins of Gorlan:

As the wind stirred the upper branches of the trees, they created moving patterns in the moonlight—patterns that Will now used to great effect. He instinctively matched his movement to the rhythm of the trees, blending easily into the pattern of the yard, becoming part of it and so being concealed by it. In a way, the lack of obvious cover made his task a little easier. The fat sergeant didn’t expect anyone to be moving across the open space of the yard. So not expecting to see anyone, he failed to do so.



Originally posted January 26, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Magic, Quest
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Ruins of Gorlan


  1. Jen says:

    I have seen The Ranger’s Apprentice again and again myself but haven’t picked it up yet. Adding it to my TBR so I make a point of it now. I do so love Marcus Zusak’s writing – both The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger are great. :)

  2. Tess W. says:

    I went out and bought this today because I found a used copy. I wouldn’t have bothered but for your mention of it on this site! I hadn’t really taken it seriously – it looked like one of a zillion other fantasy series to crop up since Harry Potter made fantasy the bestselling children’s lit genre of all time. However, having read your review and some others since, I’ve decided to give it a shot because, what can I say, I do LOVE fantasy myself ^_^

  3. Barb says:

    This series (especially the first 4 books) has been very popular with our 4th & 5h graders and when this was posted last year, it pushed me to read it so I can recommend it with authority!

  4. Anita says:

    Barb: These are definitely books that adults can also love and enthusiastically recommend. Glad you now do so.

  5. Ariel Zeitlin Cooke says:

    Like the others, I have resisted this series. Maybe it was the cover art. But if you like it, Anita, I’ll put it on the pile waiting to be read.

  6. sharon says:

    We were just talking about these yesterday. I wonder, are the sequels episodic or does it follow a timeline? (Do they need to be read it order?)

  7. Anita says:

    Sharon: These are numbered in order. Obviously people can read any way they want to read, but following the sequence makes the most sense.

  8. Barb says:

    Except I think it’s 5 comes before 4 chronologically. Otherwise, yes. And the newest, Lost Stories, is full of short stories responding to questions fans had about the characters.
    What a nice way to wrap up the series!

  9. Anita says:

    Barb: Thanks for the clarification on the sequence.

  10. G. Perry says:

    Because of this review, I’m on Chapter 5 already, and I just picked it up. I’ve really avoided books with this theme for sometime because I just couldn’t get into any more of them. However, that just changed. (I did like the dust jacket because it reminded me of The Dark is Rising which I loved.)

    I’m way hooked on Ranger’s Apprentice Book 1, and I’m no child.

    You’re one good writer John Flanagan.

  11. Anita says:

    Gordon: Glad to hear it! Yes, Dark Is Rising makes a good comparison, in terms of feeling and tone.

  12. Momo says:

    Thank you for including an Australian book in your list. John Flanagan lives in Sydney in the suburb of Manly and has visited my school when he had just started this series. I love the characters in Rangers Apprentice. The scene where the friends are reunited after starting their apprenticeships is very memorable. John wanted to write a book where the hero was of small stature (just like his own son who had experienced some bullying). When he came to our school he bought a long bow for the children to hold. One special moment was when he handed the bow to a blind boy in this group. John took special care to explain the workings of the bow to Nelson and let him run his fingers over the whole bow and string. It was an important moment for all of us.

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