Adventures in Reading: The Ranger’s Apprentice Series

I’ve been reading to my son at night from the time he was two or three.  Some of the books I read to him were ones I enjoyed when I was his age, such as My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, and others were ones that are fairly new.  Along the way we found some real treasures as well as an occasional snore-fest.  One series I began reading to him when he was around seven or eight is the Ranger’s Apprentice, by John Flanagan.

1The Ranger’s Apprentice is a series of novels set in the fictional land of Araluen.  The stories follow the adventures of a young apprentice named Will and several of his friends: Horace, a young knight, Alice, a royal courier, Cassandra, the princess of the realm, and Erak, a fierce warrior from a northern land who is an enemy at first and later grows to be one of Will’s best friends.

The stories are engaging and fun to read.  I found myself enjoying them as much as my son, and often read the books ahead of our nightly reading time.  In fact, I liked them enough that I have started reading through the series again.  If you enjoy great adventure tales like I do, it probably won’t take long to get you hooked.

I think he Ranger’s Apprentice series has great value in regards to homeschooling.  Though they are fiction, and the lands and peoples mentioned all have names invented by the author, they have direct correlations to real world countries, cultures, and history.2

For instance, Araluen is a fictional version of medieval England, Gallica is France, the Skandians are Vikings, and so on.  Much of the information about those countries and peoples fairly accurately depict their real-world counterparts.  The stories could, in my opinion, be used as activities for both English and History.  One could easily have the student identify the various cultures and lands presented in the stories, and (depending on the age of the child) describe how they are similar.

The Ranger’s apprentice stories have value in discussing ethics and morals.  There is a clash of ethics throughout the series, for instance, between Will and Horace.  The rangers often prefer a less than direct method of dealing with enemy forces, in contrast to the knights, who have a strong sense of honor and fair play.  The conflicts and the way they’re resolved could serve as a starting point for a discussion.  For instance, in the first book, The Ruins of Gorlan, Will and Horace start out as rivals, and for a while, appear as if they will become enemies, kind of like Harry and Draco in the Harry Potter series.  However, they are able to finally work out their differences and they become the best of friends.  The manner in which they do so is handled well, in my opinion, and avoids becoming overly sentimental or sappy.3

Flanagan has released book 12, The Royal Ranger, which seems to be the end of the series.  My son, after finishing it, mentioned that it was sad the stories are over.  I felt much the same way.  The Ranger’s Apprentice has become one of those stories, for me, that when you read the last one, it’s almost like saying goodbye to a good friend.  I strongly recommend the series.  As far as an age level, I believe I began reading the books to my son when he was 7 or 8, and by the time he was 9, he had started reading them himself, jumping far ahead of our nightly reading times.  Depending on the reading ability of the student, I would say around the age of eight as far as reading level goes.4  As for the content, I didn’t find anything objectionable in the stories.  The heroes and heroines strove to develop themselves ethically and morally, and most of the conflicts were resolved in a decent manner.  The only word of caution I would add is that there could be some scenes that might be slightly frightening, especially in the first two books of the series.  There are some monsters the heroes encounter that could frighten younger readers.  Aside from that, I think the only thing to be concerned with is whether or not the books fall within the particular student’s reading level.

Go check them out; I think you’ll enjoy them.


My Son, The 12 Year Old Scholar of Ancient History

Homeschooling brings joys, challenges, and the occasional ‘bad day.’  Moments come when the child you were sure would love mathematics in all its forms, just as you do, sits at the table with a frown on his face begging to do anything but his new math lesson.  There have been days when I was positive I would have had an easier time dragging a stubborn mule down the road than teaching my son the next mathematical concept.

Still, the homeschooling experience has been largely rewarding.  And it’s the moments like one I had recently that really make the whole voyage a grand one.

I was in our upstairs office room, where we have three computers and all the educational books and tools.  The room serves as my wife’s home work-space as well as a classroom for my son’s education.  Anyway, I was seated at the desk playing a video-game, Titan Quest, on the computer.  Titan Quest is a role-playing game where you create a character and go off on an adventure through ancient Greece, Egypt, and China, battling all sorts of mythological creatures along the way.  The makers of the game did an awesome job of depicting the ancient lands.  The graphics were very well done, and apparently they did their historical research, for many if not all of the buildings and devices were based on real ones.

As I was sitting there playing the game, in a stage set in Egypt, my son came into the room and watched my progress.  Suddenly my son pointed at the screen and said “hey, that’s a shaduf!”

He might as well have been speaking ancient Babylonian.  I just looked at him and said “what the heck is a shaduf?”

My son then proceeded to give me an education in ancient Egyptian irrigation techniques.  Apparently a shaduf is a device used to bring up water out of a river for the purpose of irrigating a field.  The game designers for Titan Quest had correctly thrown those into the game, as there were several of the devices along the river that flowed by a village one must guide his character through as the game progresses.

Here’s a link that illustrates a shaduf and how it would have been used.

It was an inspirational moment for me, and for my wife when I relayed it to her later in the day.  My wife was a history major, specializing in ancient and medieval history.  She has a passion for the study of history like few other people I’ve known.  That passion showed itself in the education of our son.  He has a broader knowledge of the ancient world than I did at his age, and I daresay he would give most high-schoolers a run for their money.

I remember moments like that one often, and call them to mind when we hit one of the difficult times.  Like it or not, even in homeschooling there will be subjects that hold no interest for the student.  But overall, my wife and I have seen it pay off; my son, who is now in his sixth grade year, loves to read and learn new things and has a strong grasp of history, literature, and science.  Sure, I wish he shared my passion for math and mathematical concepts, but you can’t win ’em all.  I have to be content knowing that when it comes to ancient history, I often have to go do a little research before getting into a debate with the kid.