The Land Beyond the Sea: My Review

The Land Beyond the Sea Book CoverThere is simply no other writer of medieval history that comes even close to the incomparable Sharon K. Penman. Her latest book The Land Beyond the Sea is the story of Outremer, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the struggles between Christian and Muslim rulers for the Holy Land.

Penman is known for her meticulous research covering both the history of the period and the rich array of characters that bring that history to life. In this case the story focuses on young King Baldwin IV’s courageous attempts to hold the Frankish kingdom together against both internal and external forces while also combating the debilitating effects of leprosy; Salah al-Din, the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, known to history as the great Muslim military and political leader Saladin; Lord Balian d’Ibelin, one of the few Christians respected by both Baldwin and Saladin, influential in maintaining the peace until Baldwin’s illness finally takes its toll and Guy de Lusignan, by right of marriage to Baldwin’s sister Sybilla, ascends to the throne; Gerard de Ridefort, the Templar Grand Master whose influence over the new king leads Guy to order his forces to venture out into the arid desert wasteland without sufficient water, resulting in his defeat at the battle of Hattin in 1187 and the Islamic reconquest of Jerusalem.

Personal animosities, ambitions, ignorance, greed, and stupidity all factored into the struggle for the Holy Land, and Penman captures all these influences in The Land Beyond the Sea. The conflict described in her 654 page narrative isn’t limited to Christian against Muslim. She describes the struggles for power within both religions, and it’s these divisions that played out in a series of conflicts over control of Jerusalem and the holy sites sacred to each faith that became known as the Crusades.

Readers who appreciate history will devour this book just as they have all of Penman’s previous books. They will also delight in the true circumstances regarding Balian d’Ibelin’s actions after the battle of Hattin that saved thousands of lives when Jerusalem fell to Saladin. The story has been told before in the blockbuster film The Kingdom of Heaven. However, while it’s a great movie, the facts regarding d’Ibelin’s lineage, his relationship to King Baldwin IV and his sister Sybilla, and his role in convincing Saladin to accept the peaceful surrender of Jerusalem make for a much more satisfying and riveting tale.

I highly recommend this novel!





The Journey of the Pale Bear: Lone Star Book Blog Tour and Excerpt

Middle Grade / Medieval Historical Fiction
(grades 3-7)
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Date of Publication: October 2, 2018
Paperback: October 1, 2019
Number of Pages: 302

Scroll down for the giveaway!

A runaway boy befriends a polar bear that’s being transported from Norway to London in this lyrical and timeless adventure story about freedom, captivity, and finding a family.


The polar bear is a royal bear, a gift from the King of Norway to the King of England. The first time Arthur encounters the bear, he is shoved in her cage as payback for stealing food. Restless and deadly, the bear terrifies him. Yet, strangely, she doesn’t harm him—though she has attacked anyone else who comes near. That makes Arthur valuable to the doctor in charge of getting the bear safely to London. So Arthur, who has run away from home, finds himself taking care of a polar bear on a ship to England.
Tasked with feeding and cleaning up after the bear, Arthur’s fears slowly lessen as he begins to feel a connection to this bear, who like him, has been cut off from her family. But the journey holds many dangers, and Arthur knows his own freedom—perhaps even his life—depends on keeping the bear from harm. When pirates attack and the ship founders, Arthur must make a choice—does he do everything he can to save himself, or does he help the bear to find freedom?
Based on the real story of a polar bear that lived in the Tower of London, this timeless adventure story is also a touching account of the bond between a boy and a bear.


Honor Book, Golden Kite Awards, 2019
Vermont’s 2019-2020 Dorothy Canfield Fisher list
2020 Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award Children’s Masterlist
School Library Connection highly recommended book
Junior Library Guild Selection
50 Must-Read Historical Fiction Books for Kids,

“…a stupendous coming-of-age-tale stuffed with adventure and laced with deeper questions… A richly satisfying story saturated with color, adventure, and heart.” –Kirkus, starred review

“I simply adore this novel. It has it all: gorgeous prose, fascinating history, riveting adventure. But it’s the unlikely tender friendship between a lonely boy and a polar bear that makes this a story to cherish. A lovely little miracle of a book.”

–Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan“I loved every single thing about this large-hearted and riveting medieval adventure.” —William Alexander, National Book Award-winning author of Goblin Secrets


Excerpt from Chapter 30 of

Journey of the Pale Bear

By Susan Fletcher

(This is after Arthur and the bear have had a few adventures together.  They have been separated, and here they come together again.)


I whipped round…and saw a great white shape loping across the field toward us.

The bear.

She ran with an easy, galumphing grace, and I halfway wanted to follow the children into the berry bushes, and I halfway wanted to go to the bear and greet her, because she was the closest thing I had to a friend in this place.  She had left me unharmed in her cage.  She had borne me through the sea.  She had slept beside me and warmed me.  Still, a clamoring of inner voices said, She’s a bear!  Run!  Run!

But my stepfather had told me never to run from a bear, because you will look like prey.  And an ice bear can outrun you every time.  So I forced myself to be still, to root my feet to the ground.

She slowed as she approached me.  She made a little grunting sound, a sound like a welcome.  She stretched out her head toward me and shook it in a way that seemed almost playful.  She grunted again and then brushed past me, filling my nose with the scent of her.  She began sniffing along the edge of the brambles.

All the air whooshed out of me.  I hadn’t truly thought she would harm me, but still…

The bear was rummaging deep into the bramble patch, holding the branches with her paws and sweeping up ripe berries with her tongue.

All at once, her head whipped up.  She sniffed at the air, seeming puzzled.

Voices.  Deeper ones, this time.

Four or five men and boys appeared at a distance, beyond the brambles.  Some of them began to shout and wave their arms like henwives driving their birds.

The bear turned to me, as if to ask what I made of this strange behavior.

A stocky man with a bushy, russet-colored beard reached for something behind his back—and nocked an arrow in his bow.  An arrow arced high in the air…

The bear wheeled round and crashed through the bushes, toward me.  The man loosed three more arrows in quick succession; one zinged by me so close, I felt it sting my ear.

The bear hurtled past…and I took off running, too.


Although Susan loves to write about long-ago and faraway places, she can’t bring those worlds to life without grounding them in the details of this one. To that end, she has explored lava tubes and sea caves; spent the night in a lighthouse; traveled along the Silk Road in Iran; ridden in a glider, on a camel, and on a donkey; and cut up (already dead!) baby chicks and mice for a gyrfalcon’s dinner. To research Journey of the Pale Bear, she explored the grounds of the Tower of London and went backstage at the Oregon Zoo, where, standing breathtakingly near, she watched polar bears Tasul and Conrad lip grapes from their keepers’ open palms.Journey of the Pale Bear is Susan’s 12th book, including the Dragon Chronicles series, Shadow Spinner, and Alphabet of Dreams. Collectively, her books have been translated into nine languages; accolades include a Golden Kite Honor Book, the American Library Association’s Notable Books and Best Books for Young Adults, BCCB Blue Ribbon Books, and School Library Journal’s Best Books.

Susan has an M.A. in English from the University of Michigan and taught for many years in the M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College. She lives in Bryan, Texas with her husband, historian R.J.Q. Adams, and their dog, Neville.

OCTOBER 10-20, 2019
(U.S. Only)

Guest Post
Author Interview
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Deleted Scene
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