Friday, June 15, 2012

Withholding Information

Jennifer A. Nielsen
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the idea of “the unreliable narrator” in connection with Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity. When it’s done well, it is one of my favorite reading experiences. It’s even rarer to find an unreliable narrator in books aimed at middle graders (fourth through sixth grade), but The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen is an excellent example. We get the feeling from the beginning that narrator Sage knows more than he’s telling us.

Sage has street smarts and trusts no one, so it’s completely in character for him to keep everything close to the vest. He’s an orphan who’s had to do whatever he could to survive, so Nielsen makes it completely feasible that he would be circumspect.

When I was teaching, one of my favorite books to give to third graders was Bill Britain’s The Wish Giver, a Newbery honor book. The same events unfold through the eyes of three different characters. Students could see for themselves where one character’s version contradicted another’s and also where their accounts corroborated each other’s perception of the facts. We then looked at three different major newspapers, to see what each had emphasized of world and local events. We also looked at how each paper presented those events. What was the writer’s viewpoint? What were the facts in common among the articles? Where were they in conflict? It was a way of getting kids to think critically about what they read and to think about the author’s hand in shaping the events we take in as readers.

In The False Prince, it’s almost as if Sage’s distrust of people extends to readers, too. Can he trust us with the information he has? As the book progresses, he parcels out more and more of his past, but it’s almost as if we must earn it. This novel is a great, immersive read that will keep kids turning the pages for the sheer adventure and for the ruse that Bevin Conner (their guardian of sorts) is trying to pull off. He claims he has the kingdom’s best interests in mind. Does he? That’s another piece to the mystery. These questions will get kids thinking about who’s behind the curtain, pulling the strings. This reader can’t wait to see where Nielsen takes her characters next.


  1. That sounds like a great read. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Hi, Heather,

    It is a riveting read! And great for middle grade fans of adventure and intrigue.

    All best,