Set during the late Bronze Age in the land of Canaan just as the Israelites are beginning their conquests of the Promised Land, Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer is a historical fiction book based on this time period.
The story is told through the eyes of a young boy from Gibeon, but the book is based on Biblical accounts of Joshua 9 and 10 where, after the death of Moses, Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan River to take possession of the Promised Land. The people of Gibeon become fearful of the invading Israelites and visit the camp in disguise, claiming to be travelers from a far off land. Joshua makes a hasty treaty with the men, only to discover later that he was tricked. The Gibeonites are actually natives of the land to be conquered! The Israelites refrain from attacking them, and even come to their aid in the famous battle where the sun stands still.
(I admit that I did not read the book myself. My son read the book for this review and helped me write it.)
We see Joshua's story through the eyes of the main character, Keshub, who is the son of a potter, and starts out as an 11 year old shepherd boy tending his family's sheep. He later becomes a spy, witnesses the fall of Jericho, and by the age of 13 becomes a servant to Joshua. Keshub's family believed in the "star namer" who named the "heretofore and the hereafter" star, hence the Star Namer element to the story. This god could be the same God of the Hebrews, who knows all the stars by name!
While reading, Malachi was able to refer to a list of "Characters and Relationships" at the beginning of the book to help him figure out who was who amongst the Cannanites and Hebrews. The Prologue lists a calendar of the farmer's seasons known as the Gezer Almanac and divides the 46 chapters into these eight seasons which are related to planting, tending, and harvesting specific crops.
A thirteen unit study guide is available to dig deeper into the story of Joshua and the Israelites' last year of wandering through the desert. Though he didn't utilize it much, the online guide includes a link to a map, videos, links to archaeological evidence, and research links to give the reader a deeper understanding of what life was like during the Bronze age. Your student can see an aerial view of Jerusalem, learn how to sling a stone, cross the flooded Jordan river in a kayak, and hike up the "Grand Canyon of the Middle East" to the Wadi Mujib waterfall in Amman, Jordan.
Discussion questions in the back of the book ask questions such as:
"Have you ever been the target of a bully? How did you react? Was the situation resolved? How?"Malachi didn't mention there was a bully in the story, so I felt like he was missing some of the important elements of the story and wondered if he fully comprehended what he read.
I asked Malachi who his favorite characters were:
"My favorite character in the story was Keshub because he killed a lion, was a brave spy, and he defended Joshua from attack. Another favorite was Micah because he helped Keshub scare off a bear and was a cool character. Micah is a lot like me - cool, calm, and collected."What he liked about the book:
- it's an adventure story
- it's a story of a 12 year old boy like him
- it has very detailed descriptions
- Keshub does what every boy dreams of doing, like killing a lion, being a spy, and being a hero
Indeed, Malachi can decode at a high school level, but this book seems to require a higher level of comprehension to understand it. Malachi could tell me specific scenes from the book, but had a hard time tying them all together to fully understand what the book was about. Geared for middle school on up, I would say it is geared more for high schoolers and adults.
I read about the author's participation in the ABR excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir, Israel and how it inspired her in the writing of Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer to help me help him remember more about the book. It was like getting blood out of a turnip! But, he seemed to enjoy the book and picked it up first thing every day.
It took him a few chapters to get into it, and he only read one or two chapters at a time, so I suspect the book was a challenging read. When he first started, I didn't think he would read it, so I panicked and asked my husband to read it aloud to all the kids. He took one look at the book and said yes! However, with him just about to enter his busy season at work, I wasn't sure he'd be able to finish it in time for me to write my review. So, I determined that Malachi should read it independently, and it turns out that danger, adventure, and intrigue are a perfect combination for a 12 year old boy!
My 10 year old daughter took no interest in the book and neither did I, at first. I later thought this would appeal to me if we were studying Biblical history and decided it should go on the ancient History shelf for when we start the History cycle over.
If you have an adventure loving boy or just want a great book to tie into Biblical History, please click below to check out my Crew mates reviews of Shepherd, Potter, Spy and the Star Namer!
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