The basic premise of this story is that Elias and his family travel to Greece where he finds a lost ancient treasure, a gold crown of Apollo. He hides it with the plan of selling it and using the money to fill his fantasies. However, encountering an archaeologist and a police officer who are both concerned about thieves selling antiquities, makes Elias reconsider his decision. Enter the robbers. Excitement builds and Elias finds himself in the thick of a dangerous situation with his little sister.
The major protagonist, Elias, sounds and acts like a grade 5 student. His emotions and reactions are realistic as are his fears and secrets. He is a believable character, as is his eight-year-old sister Lily. Their relationship is familiar with arguments and teasing but with loyalty and love being the strongest. The parents are supportive, loving, and trusting without being syrupy or intrusive.
Between school memories, reading a book of legends, daydreams and fantasies, and nighttime dreams, the reader spends quite a bit of time out of the present. But it seems to work quite well to give the story an historical and imaginative feel. The flashbacks work in the context of this story. The parallel story of Pindar the invader (in Elias’s legends book) echoes Elias’s need to succeed and be regarded with respect by his peers. The beginning of the book reads much like a travel diary, but the suspense slowly builds to a gripping level.
Elias has had a terrible year at school and much of his summer is spent in trepidation thinking about September. By the end of the book, his experiences and his actions have built his confidence and made him comfortable with his future.
Suzanne Cordatos spent time on the island of Delos where the fictional theft occurs. Her description is vivid and intriguing. While having photographs of the island adds to the authenticity of the story, the pictures look washed out. Perhaps the contrast could have been increased in a graphics program. The author might have gotten away with this if she had labeled the pictures as though one of the children had taken them. Some of them are difficult to discern.
This book introduces Greek culture at a level middle grade students can absorb and enjoy. Many children will recognize such things as feta cheese and gyros but there are other foods and traditions that will be new to their experience. This would be an excellent book for a teacher to read to her class as a follow-up to a unit on ancient Greece.
The writing is mature and polished. The editing is flawless.
Middle grade students would love this book and even adults would find the cultural and historical bits and pieces of interest.
Suzanne Cordatos was interviewed on this blog on September 14, 2016.