by Isaiah Fransen
Genre: Middle Grade / Action & Adventure
Print Length: 74 pages
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
A brave wizard and his magical friends go on an epic adventure to prevent his brother from unleashing evil in this story that never stops surprising.
The escapades of Before Jon are so imaginative and vibrantly described that they’ll inspire readers to reenact scenes. It even comes with sound effects!
The story follows a wizard named Ralph who lives in a castle in “the hidden world.” Ralph has a magic wand, a brother, and three trustworthy, talented friends: A unicorn named Sophia, a troll named Bentley, and a warlock named Oatmeal. They are all at Ralph’s castle when they hear an explosion outside, which is the sound of his brother, Brock (also a wizard) creating havoc to steal Ralph’s wand.
Brock is a classic villain, willing to do anything it takes to achieve his evil goals. He intends to steal Ralph’s wand so that he can summon “the two evil ones” and have them do his bidding.
Fortunately, Ralph and his friends are able to get away by creating a cloud of smoke and disappearing quickly. Once they are safely away from Brock, Ralph leads his friends to the tree of the elements, which can be used to create crystal elements of water, fire, and ice. He asks each of his friends to take a crystal home and protect them fiercely. “They were all like, “okay!”” And so begins Ralph’s journey to stop his brother from unleashing the evil ones.
Fransen’s writing makes Before Jon feel designed to read out loud, including sentences like “Then Brock the wizard was like no! ‘I will find you, and then that magic wand will be mine!’” I’d highly recommend this book for anyone who would read it aloud in any capacity.
It is endless fun to read—and it will be endless fun to talk about, act out with DIY costumes, discuss with your kids’ friends, and then read aloud all over again. It would even make an incredible drama class activity. I’m sure kids would have a blast putting on a play of everything that happens here. It’s high energy, full of surprises, and an absolute riot of an adventure.
The story focuses on four friends solving the many problems that come their way as they try to prevent Brock from getting Ralph’s wand. The magical places they visit on this quest prompt for many interesting, educational interactive discussions. (For example: Who can describe lava? What are the elements? Who knows what it means to capsize a boat?) It’s a story that provides consistent enjoyment while also teaching valuable lessons about thinking ahead and observing your surroundings.
Ralph and his friends must escape from a live mummy, cross a lava lake, and even avoid being eaten by a giant. In one scene, fire-breathing lake monsters try to capsize their boats. In others, there are trap doors, crocodiles, buildings on fire, a bear’s cave, and hungry wolves. Along the way, Ralph’s friends rescue him from so many troubling circumstances, often using the element crystals he helped them make, and they teach him that working together is the best plan. I also loved the exciting chapter titles like “The Mountain of No Return” and “Finding A Way Across The Underground Lake.”
There is a hilariously shocking plot twist near the end of Before Jon, and then another captivating twist after that, introducing us to the world of the “Detective Jon” series. I would read anything Fransen writes after this. If the sequels are anything like this novel,they’re going to brighten my day.
This book made me smile, laugh, and gasp. In my own reactions, I couldn’t help but imagine a group of children shouting “woahhhh” and “oh noooo!” in those same moments. It made me wish I was inside a library at storytelling time, or that I had babysitting duty soon so that I could hear childrens’ reactions to Ralph’s amazing adventures.
Before Jon is a charming read for all ages, but I especially recommend it for kids aged around 7 and up, who would get tons of amusement reading and rereading this, acting it all out, and retelling it to their friends. It’s a high stakes adventure and an absolute joy.
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