This fantasy book is the first in the "Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist" series by R.L. LaFevers and is published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Flight of the Phoenix is written for kids ages 7 to 11 years. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
When 10-year-old Nathaniel Fludd's adventurous parents are proclaimed dead in 1928, he's sent to live with Aunt Philomena (Phil), a beastologist. He learns from her talking dodo that Aunt Phil studies and helps endangered and mythical creatures. Aunt Phil takes Nate to Arabia (now known as the Arabian Peninsula) in her ancient two-seater plane. There, they must oversee the birth of a phoenix, a phenomenon that only happens once every 500 years. En route to Arabia, Nate pulls a gremlin named Greasle from the place in between where the propeller meets the plane. Aunt Phil tells him to throw the nasty thing overboard, but Nate keeps her. When Aunt Phil is captured by Bedouin, a nomadic tribe, Nate and Greasle must ensure that the phoenix emerges from the fire they've built. Once they've seen to the phoenix, Nate and Greasle sneak into the Bedouin camp to rescue Aunt Phil. They try to frighten the Bedouin by claiming that Greasle is capable of causing them misfortune. Greasle inadvertently finds oil, and Aunt Phil tells the Bedouin how much it's worth. The Bedouin set the group free, and Aunt Phil promises to begin Nate's formal adventure training at once.
Nate's parents, like all Fludds, were adventurers. They took off and left him with a caretaker, promising to send for him when he was 8 and his sense of adventure had developed. Miss Lumpton, the caretaker, tells Nate that asking questions is one of his biggest flaws. She despairs when the Fludd parents are proclaimed dead. When she learns she has inherited a "tidy sum," she promptly and joyfully disappears. Aunt Phil gently pushes Nate to help him act bravely and develop his sense of adventure. She has him fix a plane while it is in flight, and leaves him to care for the phoenix when nomads capture her. She presents him with a Fludd family compass when he demonstrates cleverness and growth.
As beastologists, Aunt Phil and Nate hunt for creatures that are sometimes considered mythical and magical. Greasle calls Aunt Phil a witch when she becomes angry, not because she practices any type of witchcraft. Aunt Phil's Book of Beasts elaborates on the phoenix. It says if a sick or injured man hears the phoenix's song or gets a pinch of ash from the phoenix's fire, he'll be healed. Drinking phoenix tears leads to eternal life. Phoenix feathers possess unknown magical properties. After the phoenix finishes his nest, he gathers twigs and ash into an egg and carries it to the temple of the sun god as an offering. The Arabians believe in jinnis, elemental spirits that can be controlled by sorcerers and told to do bad things.
Great Stone Face Children's Book Award, 2010-11
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
Lying: Nate lies to Aunt Phil to keep Greasle out of trouble. He and Greasle also convince various Arabians that Greasle is a jinni, a creature whose powers they fear. Aunt Phil tells the Bedouin she is alone so they won't discover and capture Nate.
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