Britfield & the Lost Crown is the first of a seven-book series of young adult novels with study guides that combine excellent storytelling with educational value. The story in this first book is fast-paced with interesting characters, and a compelling storyline. The cover art and the layout of the book itself are also exceptionally well done.
The story opens with twelve-year-old Tom Britfield in a miserable orphanage in England where the children are exploited and mistreated by the managers. Tom learns that his parents might still be alive, and the mystery about his parentage and how he ended up in the orphanage gradually reveals that he might be a long-lost heir to Britain’s crown. He escapes with his friend Sarah, at first with the idea of just getting to London and surviving. However, when a disproportionately large number of people join the hunt for Tom and Sarah, they begin to suspect that Tom might actually be part of something larger than himself. The first book has a satisfying conclusion, although it is clearly the first of a series.
The next two books, due in 2021 and 2022 respectively, will follow Tom to France, then to Italy. (A series of seven movies based on the books is also planned.) An audiobook version of Britfield & the Lost Crown is also available.
The book is written at about a fifth-sixth grade reading level, but it does occasionally use challenging vocabulary words such as claustrophobic, distraught, and sarcophagus. Teens will likely enjoy reading it. (The book is written at about the same level as the Harry Potter series, but some oversimplified plotting in Britfield & the Lost Crown makes it unlikely that this book will also attract a large adult audience like the Harry Potter series.) There are no magic, superpowers, occult overtones, or sexual activity in this book—just exciting adventures and intriguing relationships. A well-written story like this that is safe to recommend to teens and pre-teens is a rare gem in today’s literary marketplace.
While the story is fictional, the book’s author, C.R. Stewart, skillfully weaves in geography, history, and present-day culture. In this first book, it is all related to England, and other books in the series will explore other countries.
The companion 83-page study guide for Britfield & the Lost Crown expands the book’s value educationally with activities for vocabulary, reading comprehension, and literary analysis as well as for history, geography, and culture. (You can download the study guide for free.)
The study guide has activities for each chapter plus a separate literary analysis section where students analyze the plot, conflicts, characters, and themes. Each set of chapter activities has four sections: vocabulary, comprehension questions, analytical and application questions, and research.
Vocabulary activities vary from chapter to chapter and include activities such as matching columns, identifying synonyms, predicting definitions before looking them up in a dictionary, writing definitions of words and drawing illustrations, and completing word-search and crossword puzzles.
Comprehension questions ensure that students grasp the storyline. The analytical and application questions, labeled “Going Deeper,” often ask students to explore their own reactions and feelings. For instance, page 12 in the study guide asks: “Think about how Tom feels when he is told his parents are alive. How would it make you feel if you found out your parents were alive after thinking they were dead?”
The research questions, labeled “Learn More with Technology,” generally have students use the internet to search for information. Here is one example from page 13: “Choose one of the locations in England mentioned in Chapters 3 & 4 (listed below). [Five places are listed beneath the question.] Search for the name online. Write down where in England it is located (north, south, east, or west) and two important facts about it. Then use an online map to find out how many miles away the location is from your home city.”
Britfield & the Lost Crown should be great for children and teens about ages nine to fifteen, and I might be conservative with the top end of its appeal. You should consider giving this as a gift—it's that good! I know that parents are sometimes reluctant to turn a good novel into something used for schoolwork. However, in this case, I highly recommend the study guide since it helps readers better understand the vocabulary and settings used in the story as well as the historical and cultural connections.