And parents will love the story behind the epic as much as the tale itself.
BOOK PICK: The Prince Martin Epic
By Brandon Hale, Illustrated by Jason Zimdars
My son has a new favorite storybook character — a Renaissance prince named Martin, who’s as virtuous as he is brave.
The Prince Martin Epic, written by Oklahoma City-based Catholic father of five, Brandon Hale, is a gripping story of a young boy and his many adventures, with stories culminating in powerful lessons that highlight virtue.
As Hale describes, “There's adventure aplenty...and frightening foes. There is also a knight—and he follows his nose, sniffing out those in danger to serve and protect. But this boldest of knights isn't whom you'd expect...There's much more than just action and marvelous art: there's a moral embedded to enter the heart and the mind of your child. It will challenge and thrill. This book won't be forgotten like other ones will.”
The rhyme in the story is captivating (and a fantastic surprise as the book appears to be written in prose), keeping kids and parents engaged as the saga unfolds. The books are recommended for children ages 6-9, but my 4-year-old son and I — as well as my 2-year-old daughter, actually — loved this book as a read-aloud.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this series, though, is how it originated. Hale, an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, was mobilized by the Navy and sent overseas for a six-month deployment in 2015.
“While I was away, I was able to talk to my family via my phone's Facetime app. Unfortunately, my son, Thomas, who was 4 years old at the time, quickly lost interest in talking to me on the phone,” Hale recounted. “After a few weeks, he would barely speak to me. Before I went overseas, he always wanted to do everything with Dad; he had become my sidekick. Now I found myself far away from home, and Thomas didn't even want to talk to me on the phone. So I racked my brain, trying to figure out a way to connect with the little guy and maintain our bond. One day it occurred to me that I should tell him stories about ‘Prince Martin,’ who had mysteriously popped into my head one day.”
Hale’s son loved the stories and eagerly awaited them, even naming pivotal characters as the tales progressed. When Hale returned home, his son, Thomas, still wanted to hear more about Prince Martin, and Hale’s wife encouraged him to turn the stories into chapter books. After sending some of his work to his own hero, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Hale was further encouraged to publish the series after receiving Kreeft’s praise for the book, who told Hale: “Stories that rhyme are enchanting like a liturgy that is sung rather than spoken,” and that Hale’s adventure stories “are exactly what young boys love and need.”
After writing the books, Hale attempted to draw accompanying illustrations himself. “They were terrible,” Hale admitted. “One night, I was with my buddies at an Irish Pub and I started telling them about how I needed an artist to illustrate my book. My friend, Jason Zimdars, surprised me when he piped up, saying he'd like to do the art. He's a graphic designer who loved drawing as a boy and wanted to try his hand at it again. Jason draws his illustrations with brilliant color, and they explode off the page. He is currently putting the finishing touches on the art for Prince Martin and the Dragons, and those illustrations are going to be sublime because Jason spent many, many hours as a boy drawing dragons!”
Hale hopes that the epic will inspire boys to live lives of courageous virtue. “Some of the modern-era children's books I've encountered that are geared toward boys seem to encourage either crassness or bland niceness,” Hale explained. “But I don't want my son to be crass or ‘nice.’ I want Thomas to read books that inspire him to be courageously virtuous – and sooner rather than later. So I've written my Prince Martin books not only to entertain through high adventure and camaraderie among heroes, but also to inspire courageous virtue.”
Prince Martin Wins His Sword and Prince Martin and the Thieves, the first two books in The Prince Martin Epic series, are currently available on Amazon, and the third book, Prince Martin and the Dragons, will be released in June 2018. My son can hardly wait, having devoured the first two books right after they arrived in the email… and honestly, I can’t wait either!