If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith – A Book Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What I Loved:

The weaving of so many wonderful topics to discuss with a child made this book an utter delight! There are so many strong messages about our world, our resources, and our actions. I cannot wait for my son to read it so we can discuss it together!

How I Felt:

The Characters: Wow! I loved Kirra and her strength throughout this entire book! Her resolve at saving her second family and their community were wonderful! She is a role model for a young reader, showing right from wrong, and good from evil.

The Writing: If We Were Giants created a lush and vibrant world with excellent descriptions of Kirra and her surroundings. The story moved well from one scene to the next, making it an easy read. I really appreciated the depth of this story. It is a fantasy but managed to delve into some deep topics.

The Plot: Kirra lives with her family in a volcano surrounded by a community of peaceful, neighborly people. Her life is a happy one as she learns about utilizing the resources available to her and about respecting nature. When the Takers come, she loses everything in the blink of an eye. Orphaned and homeless, she is accepted by a family in a new community. She finds that this group of people cares for nature the way her family had. They are, however, less neighborly. As the Takers come to invade her new home, Kirra must teach her new family to work together as a group to save themselves and their home.

Content Warnings: Loss of family.

Overall: I found If We Were Giants to be a wonderful, well-written story with a great focus on nature and our natural resources.

To Read or Not To Read:

I would recommend If We Were Giants for any middle-grade reader that enjoys a fantasy story. This would be a great book for a classroom or at home!

Where to Find This Book:

If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith is available at these sites.

Amazon Kindle | Amazon | Bookshop.org | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | TBD | iBooks

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World-renowned musician, environmentalist, and humanitarian Dave Matthews, in collaboration with popular children’s book author Clete Barrett Smith, has conjured an exciting and poignant fantasy about a girl who must confront her past mistakes before she can save her peaceful community from a gigantic threat.

Kirra, a curious, agile, and outgoing girl, lives in an idyllic community hidden inside a dormant volcano. She and her father are the only two people allowed to venture beyond its walls. Kirra is in training to become a Storyteller like him, and together they travel from village to village spreading fearsome tales designed to keep outsiders away from their secret nest.

One day, after hearing rumors of strangers called the “Takers,” Kirra leaves the volcano by herself, hoping to discover her own story. But she unknowingly leads the Takers back to her doorstep, and they rob her of everything she has ever held dear. A devastated Kirra is found by a boy named Luwan and adopted into his family, which lives among others high in the trees of a dense forest. Now quiet and withdrawn, Kirra hides her dark past from everyone and never wants to leave the safety of her tree dwelling. Luwan, on the other hand, loves to explore.

One day it leads to trouble: He is captured while spying on a group of strangers. The Takers have returned. To save the Tree Folk, Kirra must face her inner demons and summon all her storytelling to weave the most important tale of her life.

This compelling novel about overcoming loss, embracing community, and living in harmony with nature is highlighted with a full-color insert of concept artwork, making it perfect for family sharing.

Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith discuss their new book, If We Were Giants.

Just the Facts:

  • If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith
  • Genre: Middle-Grade / Fantasy
  • Page Count: 304 pages
  • Publisher:  Disney-Hyperion
  • Pub Date: March 3, 2020
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Dave Matthews photo credit Brantley Gutierrez

Dave Matthews has chronicled his life’s travels so often that when asked, he can rattle off the details without pause. It goes like this:

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1967. Moves two years later with his family to Westchester County, NY, where his dad, a physicist, goes to work for IBM. Then, in the early `70s, to Cambridge, England, before returning to New York — where his dad died in 1977. The family moved back to South Africa in 1980, where Matthews went to a few different schools and “got more wise about the evils of government, there and in general.” O.K.; pause for a breath.

The key move for Dave Matthews Band fans, of course, was when he relocated in 1986 to Charlottesville, VA, where his parents had lived before he was born. Though he also logged time back in South Africa and in Amsterdam, it was in Charlottesville where Matthews — who took piano lessons as a child before picking up the guitar at age nine — became part of the local music community and hatched the idea for his own band.

“I didn’t really have a vision, or a plan,” says Matthews, acknowledging that some of his musical sensibility came from spending time in so many different places as a child. “I’m sure it gave me a little bit of an openness. The most diverse music in the world is in America, ’cause there’s so many different cultures here, but what tends to be pushed to the top is often a narrow view of what there really is. So maybe (his travels) just gave me a wider pool of listening.”

Matthews says his principal goal with the band was to surround himself with the best players possible. To this day he remains “amazed” that he was able to recruit and retain the four musicians he rather modestly refers to as his superiors. “I was just looking for people that I liked,” explains Matthews, who feels he’s “gotten a bit better” over the years. “Could I play with them was more of the question, I think. We just ended up fitting together. The band wasn’t something that I was looking for; it was very much I loved the people I asked to play with me. There was a connection at the beginning, and I think what we’ve been about is not some grand scheme but more the spirit of everyone, which is why we ended up with this band and why it sounds like it does.”

Clete Barrett Smith’s first novel for teens, Mr. 60%, was released by Crown Books in August, 2017. Smith has also written four humorous middle grade adventures: Aliens on Vacation Alien on a Rampage, Aliens in Disguise, and Magic Delivery.

Aliens on Vacation was released by Disney-Hyperion Books for Children in May, 2011 and named an American Booksellers Council “New Voices” selection as one of the top middle grade novels of the year by a debut author; and AOV was nominated for state award lists in Texas, Florida, Washington, Pennsylvania and Nebraska.

A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, Clete Barrett Smith taught English, Drama and Speech at the high school level for over twenty years. Clete received his MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010. He currently lives in Bellingham, Washington with his family.

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I was provided an advanced reader’s copy of this book for free. I am leaving my review voluntarily.

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