Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Stone Lions: Educational and Exciting Middle Grade Novel

In our home school lessons, we’re reading The Stone Lions, by Gwen Dandridge. We’ve been studying the Renaissance, but most textbooks leave out the Islamic influence, particularly in Spain, that helped feed the European Renaissance.

Islam’s golden age produced leaps of understanding in science, math and medicine when much of Europe was in the (poorly named) Dark Ages. 

When Europe began to recover from the devastation in the Dark Ages, the knowledge Muslim civilization had preserved and created helped European scholars jump-start their learning. Particularly in math, where Muslim mathematicians discovered zero, the decimal system, and provided the numeric system (Arabic) the western world uses today. 

We need to thank Muslim mathematicians for saving us from computing II + II = IV. Shukran!

Dandridge set her story in 14th century Moorish Spain told through the eyes of Ara, a spunky girl from the harem and daughter of the Sultan. The story revolves around Ara’s discovery of the wicked Wazir’s meddling in black mathmagics—a great and compelling idea for the middle grade scene and a sneakily wonderful way to make math seem fascinating. 

Ara discovers the Wazir’s tricks while hiding in wait to see the procession of Tahirah, the famous mathmagician and tutor of her dearly departed mother. 

Tahirah is a Sufi and skilled in understanding symmetry and the mystical abilities of math. She tutors Ara in understanding the importance of symmetry and how the wazir’s meddling has broken the symmetry in the walls of the fortress where they live, leaving it vulnerable to attack. Ara has to find the broken symmetries and heal them before the Alhambra, their palace, breaks from the inside. 

We’re not finished with the book yet, but all three of my children, ages 11-6, pay rapt attention to the exciting plot twists and the funny moments when Ara’s primary care taker is transformed into different animals as a result of crossing the Wazir. 

Toledo, Spain from the top of the Church of the Jesuits. We spent a lovely week in this former Moorish city.

Dandridge wrote about a time and culture often overlooked. She also managed to pull off a plot that engages multiple ages with her magical elements (and even math) sneaked in. Not easy to do. Kudos to her giving parents and educators a go-to story on an era, culture and subject not often talked about.

As excited as I am to finish the story, I'm always a bit sad when a good story ends. Fortunately, there's more out there to explore. I'm looking at The Well of Sacrifice right now for our unit on the Maya.

Have a great week.


  1. Now this is one truly interesting story. Only wish I'd had that growing up. I might have thought of math differently.

  2. Me too. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Sounds like a great lesson! Your kids must be loving it.

    1. Yes. We had to read five chapters tonight. We're at the good part. I enjoy it too. It's well done. Thanks for the comment.