Feb 23, 2016

Youth Book Club: The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

I recently started a youth book club in my community, and this past weekend we had a party for The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands! TBK was my first read of 2016 (published Sept. 2015) and I absolutely loved it (you can read my Goodreads review here). It's a historical fiction that tastes like fantasy and is full of interesting characters, meaningful relationships, mystery, murder, secret codes, near escapes, and science! Alchemy to be precise. The main character is an apothecary's apprentice and his best friend is a baker's boy. They are awesome together. And the science and history in the story seem well researched, but are woven so well into the engaging narrative that they in no way feel like an info. dump. Generally I'm not interested in non-fantasy, historical fiction, but I'm so glad I gave in to this one (the cover and summary were so intriguing!). Now I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel.

For eats for the party I made apple pie, orange blossom water ice cream, cookies with alchemy symbols, and edible rolling pins! We also had rye bread and various cheeses, as well as honey/sticky buns. All of these foods related to the book, either being mentioned specifically or being inspired by the story. While we ate we watched the book trailer for The Blackthorn Key as well as Kevin Sands' several behind-the-scenes videos about the book.

You can find my Orange Icy Cream recipe here and my edible rolling pin how-to here (it's super easy). The alchemy cookies were simple sugar cookies decorated with colored royal icing. And here's my recipe for the Apple Pie, which, just so you know, tastes fabulous paired with the cheese ;). For a complete TBK food list, click here

For activities (aside from eating ;) ), each club member found an envelope under a chair that contained a piece of paper drawn on in lemon juice. We held the papers carefully(!) up to a torch (or you could use a candle, or better yet; an iron!) to heat (oxidize) the juice and reveal the symbol, and then the kids found the matching symbol drawn on another envelope somewhere in the room. Inside the second envelope was a message encoded in the Caesar, or shift cipher (a type of substitution cipher), identical to the one found in the book (where M is 08 and you read to the right and down). There were also a few alchemy symbols mixed in with the cipher. To decode the message, they looked in The Blackthorn Key to see how the main character did it (they found both the Caesar cipher and the alchemy symbols, used in two different scenes in the book). The message revealed a list of ingredients for two separate recipes; one to make vapor rub using coconut oil, peppermint oil, and eucalyptus oil (the apothecary part; to help one breathe easier), and the other for gooey slime using glue, water, and borax (the alchemy part – well, chemistry; chaining together the molecules to create a polymer). There was a lot of happy, messy experimenting ;).

Members also each received a bookplate autographed by author Kevin Sands (thank you again, Kevin!), along with a TBK bookmark and magnet.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments. If you're considering starting a youth book club, or already have one and are looking for ideas, I hope this post is helpful! We had a lot of fun and I can't wait for our next meeting! Stay tuned!

Links for The Blackthorn Key:
The Blackthorn Key discussion guide
The Blackthorn Key Official Website
Author Kevin Sands Official Website
"Top 10 Codes, Keys, & Ciphers" article by Kevin Sands in The Guardian

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