An Oldie but a Goodie: The Book of Three

“Eilonwy put her hands on her hips. Her eyes flashed. ‘I don’t like being called ‘a girl’ and ‘this girl’ as if I didn’t have a name at all. It’s like having your head put in a sack. If you’ve made your decision, I’ve made my own. I don’t see how you’re going to stop me.”

Here’s a true story: I consider myself fairly well-versed in Children’s and Young Adult Literature, so when a friend of mine mentioned The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander as a childhood classic, I wasn’t sure I believed her. I had never heard of it! Needless to say, I was intrigued and I went on to ask a few others about the book. As it turns out, they were right and I was wrong.

The Book of Three (juv A376bo) was published in 1964 as the first book of the massively successful Chronicles of Prydain series. The opening story follows Taran, who just achieved the rank of Assistant Pig Keeper – not exactly noble and heroic in Taran’s eyes. The pig – aka Hen Wen – seems to have other ideas about Taran’s destiny when she suddenly rushes from her enclosure, forcing Taran to follow her. Unbeknown to him, the quest to save the pig would turn more daring than he ever dreamed and introduce him to characters he never would have imagined.

Alexander’s novel takes off from the first few pages and never stops, acquiring both characters (including my favorite, sassy Eilonwy) and story background as Taran ventures forth on his quest to find Hen Wen. For being nearly 50 years old, the publication withstands the test of time with a strong foundation of amusing and inspiring characters and excellent pacing throughout the entire novel.

This book would be great read aloud with a single student or an entire class. There really is something for everybody. And as a fun tie-in, much of the plot was based on Welsh mythology (juv 398.2T45t).

And when you have finished The Book of Three, book two in the series, The Black Cauldron (juv A376bL), is just as good – it was named a Newbery Honor Book in 1966 and Disney adapted it to a film in 1985. Certainly an oldie, but definitely a goodie.

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