The Last Akaway

by Gary Karton (2013)

A new series? A spirit animal adventure? 270 pages? Yes, The Last Akaway is all these things.

Know that here at Read to Them, we’re pretty picky. We listen to our participating schools. Some of you want shorter, accessible books for less experienced reading families. You’ve got ‘em. Some of you want more advanced titles that can reach middle schoolers, too. The Last Akaway is one of those.

Know this, too. Publishers send us books hoping to add them to our special list of recommended titles. Most of ‘em don’t make it. But The Last Akaway is different. The Last Akaway is special.

The entertaining Gary Karton writes spirited prose. A lot happens, but it happens quickly. One of the most engaging characters is Brody Boondoggle’s (he’s the protagonist) grandmother. She doesn’t say, “My goodness” or even “Sakes Alive!” She says, “Oh, my sweet cousin from Kalamazoo with double chocolate mud brownies and pulled pork sandwiches.”

A lot happens in The Last Akaway. Brody and his brother Jake and their friend travel to a new land, and end up with a major mission that involves the fate and future of all children. Grandiose, yes. But Karton places this adventure in the larger context of thinking about themes that concern all children: the animal world, how much can you trust adults, and the danger/value of video games. Yes, The Last Akaway is about all of that.

So what’s a spirit animal? It’s an imaginative device that Karton uses to propel his story and to help the children in it – and certainly he hopes the children reading it – to discover more about themselves. What are their true talents and abilities? Can your spirit animal reveal them? The answer is yes, but it will take traveling to another world and vanquishing the mysterious Uncle Skeeta and outsmarting a massive holistic other-worldly video game – all to save the last Akaway – to do it.

Too complicated? Ask your students to explain it! Karton has already satisfied a core of readers who want more – and we believe Read to Them schools and families will be part of the chorus clamoring for Karton to complete series.

Read to Them is hoping that The Last Akaway will play a little bit like the old Newbery-winning classic, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Yes, it’s longer. But even younger children can identify with the main characters and follow their unexpected adventure through its twists and turns and joyful insights. And all readers – especially families – will enjoy having that much to stimulate and explain – and to understand each other better.

But only if you help them understand what an Akaway – and a spirit animal – are in the first place.