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Just a printer's apprentice at the start, within pages, Theo—our main man in Westmark—ends up on the run from oppressive authorities and fighting for the freedom of his kingdom. Just like that, he's no longer your average Joe. In fact, he's hanging with the king and his evil minister in no time. Westmark, written by Lloyd Alexander, makes our heads spin as soon as we dive into it—and we mean that in the best of ways.
This book deals with a ton of important themes, like freedom of the press and revolution. That's a lot of big stuff for a short little read, right? But critics and readers alike loved it when it was published in 1981: Westmark was named the best children's fiction hardcover book of 1982 by the National Book Awards, which is no easy feat, especially with Ramona Quimby in the mix.
Alexander was coming out of a bad place when he wrote this book. Fighting in World War II made him think a lot about violence, censorship, freedom, corruption, and revolution, all of which are super important themes, and all of which he incorporated into Westmark (source) and its two sequels.
Even though he was a pro author, Alexander didn't find it easy to dredge up his painful past for this story—luckily for us he did, though, and the result is both a thought-provoking and exciting read. And while Alexander had to suffer through World War II to come up with this story, we can enjoy it from the comfort—and safety—of our couches.
The situations Theo faces in Westmark are all too possible in today's world, but there's one in particular that's near and dear to our hearts. That said, it should come as no surprise that this issue has to do with printing presses… Okay, maybe that was a bit of a surprise, but now that you've seen the big reveal, it makes sense, right? Right. We love books.
Guess what the number one amendment in the U.S. Constitution is? Yup, that's right—freedom of the press. Its prominent placement in the Constitution shows how important freedom of expression was to the Founding Fathers—nothing says this matters quite like first place billing—and it's something that Westmark could sorely use in the hard times it finds itself in during this book.
Here's the short version: At the very beginning of Westmark, the controlling Chief Minister Cabbarus and his lackeys in the police destroy Theo's livelihood and his ability to choose what he wants to print by ruining his master's printing press. It's pretty Big Brother, if you ask us, and part of a general crackdown on presses, which is key to Cabbarus's tyrannical grip on power.
Just because we value freedom of the press in the United States, though, doesn't mean that censorship isn't an issue in this country. After all, our government has been known to ban a few books in its day. So as you read Westmark, keep an eye out for what Cabbarus hopes to accomplish through controlling presses, and also for what people who print in defiance of his rules hope to make happen. You just might find yourself rushing to read every banned book you can get your hands on.
Learn about Lloyd
Wanna hear what made Lloyd Alexander such a big dude in kids' fiction? Check him out here.
Lloyd Alexander passed away in 2007. Learn about some of his greatest accomplishments here.
Go Big or Go Home
How does Westmark match up in themes and content to Alexander's other novels? Check it out here.
What Kids Wanna Know
Real-life kids asked Alexander these questions… and he doesn't hold back in his answers.
Because It's Fantastic
Why read fantasy? Alexander dishes on his favorite genre.
All About Alexander
Some megafans made a documentary YouTube channel about Lloyd.
Kids chat about their favorite Alexander book. They're pretty funny and adorable while they do it, too.
Quite the Looker
Here's Theo from one of the early Westmark covers. Hunky.
Twice as Nice
Lucky for you, Westmark has two sequels. Here's the cover to the follow-up volume, The Kestrel.
Mickle's hanging on by a thread on the cover for the final volume in the trilogy, The Beggar Queen.
Find Your Way in Westmark
Check out this map around Westmark if you've got plans to meet up with Theo later.