Alphabet of Dreams

( 5 )

Overview

Mitra and her little brother, Babak, are beggars in the city of Rhagae, scratching out a living as best as they can with what they can beg for?or steal. But Mitra burns with hope and ambition, for she and Babak are not what they seem. They are of royal blood, but their father?s ill-fated plot against the evil tyrant, King Phraates, has resulted in their father?s death and their exile. Now disguised as a boy, Mitra has never given up believing they can rejoin what is left of ...
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Alphabet of Dreams

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Overview

Mitra and her little brother, Babak, are beggars in the city of Rhagae, scratching out a living as best as they can with what they can beg for–or steal. But Mitra burns with hope and ambition, for she and Babak are not what they seem. They are of royal blood, but their father’s ill-fated plot against the evil tyrant, King Phraates, has resulted in their father’s death and their exile. Now disguised as a boy, Mitra has never given up believing they can rejoin what is left of their family and regain their rightful standing in the world.
Then they discover that Babak has a strange gift: If he sleeps with an item belonging to someone, he can know that person’s dreams. Soon Babak and his abilities come to the attention of a powerful Magus–one who has read portents in the stars of the coming of a new king and the dawn of a new age. Soon Mitra and Babak find themselves on the road to Bethlehem . . .
The acclaimed author of Shadow Spinner returns to ancient Persia in this spellbinding saga–a tale filled with the color of the caravansaries and the heat of the desert, a tale that reimagines the wonder and spirit of a lost age.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This richly imagined novel invents a backstory for the famous Nativity tale of the three wise men-Melchior, Balthazaar and Gaspar-who follow a star in search of the prophesied king. Fletcher (Shadow Spinner) centers the story on Mitra, a Persian teenager, and her young brother, the fragile, kindhearted Babak. The pair was forced to flee after their father's unsuccessful coup attempt against the reigning monarch, Phraates. Mitra successfully disguises herself as a boy and a beggar-until Babak unwittingly reveals his ability to foretell the future through his dreams. His prophetic visions attract unwanted attention, most perilously from Melchior, an out-of-favor Magus who kidnaps the boy so Babak can dream exclusively for him, despite obvious risks to the boy's health. (He grows weaker with every dream.) There's a bit too much going on-two romances for Mitra, multiple escapes and recaptures, squabbling Magi-and the pace occasionally advances as languidly as a camel journey from Persia to Bethlehem. But Mitra is feisty and honorable, and Fletcher, with lush and often poetic language, somehow ties her many strands together, drawing a subtle parallel between the humble circumstances of the unnamed baby's birth and the empathetic suffering of Babak, a prince in exile. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
Fletcher brings a carefully developed "what if" to fruition in Alphabet of Dreams. Mitra used to live a highborn life in ancient Persia, but her family's downfall has led her to take refuge with her younger brother, Babak, in a network of caves and tombs known as the City of the Dead. There, disguised as a boy, she begs and steals whatever she can to keep them alive in the market of nearby Rhagae. Six-year-old Babek is a vivid dreamer, and when he sleeps with a hat stolen in the marketplace, he experiences a dream from the hat's owner. Reluctantly, Mitra agrees to sell Babak's ability to dream, using as a go-between an old woman, another resident of the City of the Dead. Word of Babak's gift reaches a magus whose caravan rests nearby, and due to the go-between's treachery, Babak and Mitra are soon traveling with not just one but three Magi--Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar--all of whom are following a prophecy and a brilliant star. Over the course of the sometimes-harrowing adventure, Mitra grows up, physically and emotionally, until the book reaches its entirely satisfying conclusion. Mitra narrates the story, and her longing to reclaim her family's place in Persian society drives her. While her single-mindedness sometimes brings disaster, it also means survival. Indeed, concern for Babak is foremost in her mind. Gradually, she is able to extend that concern to others around her. Some readers may find Fletcher's elegantly simple language rough going at first, but eventually the story itself will draw them in. The characters are well rounded and well drawn, each with his or her complexities carefully detailed. An extensive author's note details Fletcher's research on the Magi, the star ofBethlehem, and the historical context of the novel. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Simon & Schuster, 304p., $16.95.. Ages 12 to 18.
—Donna Scanlon
VOYA
Set in the days when the Magi were gathering to follow the star across the Great Desert, this novel follows the sometimes-perilous adventures of a teenage girl, Mitra, and her five-year-old brother, Babak. Born into a noble house in Persia, these children are all that is left of a family that was once powerful and happy. Mitra wants to be returned to the status she once enjoyed. For now, she and her brother must scrape by as best they can by stealing food while at the same time hiding from the king's men, who are trying to hunt them down and kill them. When Mitra discovers that Babak has a gift for dreaming other people's futures by sleeping with a piece of their clothing, she begins to sell his dreams. The Magus Melchoir has stopped in their town, hears of the boy's gift, and arranges for the boy to be stolen and delivered to him. Mitra chases down and reluctantly joins the entourage. Thus begins their western trek that ends, of course, in Bethlehem. Although the center of the story focuses on Mitra and Babak, the power of Babak's dreams drives the forward motion of the caravan. Each Magus has Babak dream for him, and the dreams are as huge as the night sky, with stars running their course from the beginning to the end of time. The characters are vivid and whole, the plot compelling, and the setting vast. The novel might be confusing to non-Christian readers unfamiliar with the story of the Magi. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, Atheneum/S & S, 304p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Leslie Carter
Children's Literature - Amie Rose Rotruck
After their father orchestrated a failed plot against a tyrant, Mitra and her little brother Babak take to streets of Rhagae. Mitra disguises herself as a boy, hoping to survive long enough to reunite with her family. When her brother begins to have strange dreams, he attracts the attention of a Magus. Babak's gift enables him to know a person's dreams if he sleeps with an object belonging to the person. Mitra wants Babak to use this gift to find their family, but the Magus has other ideas. He has read portents of a great king to come soon and wants Babak to dream more details. Mitra and Babak find themselves on a long journey to find this king, a journey that will eventually lead them to Bethlehem. This amazing story about the coming of Jesus (never mentioned by name), is rich in detail and historical as well as Biblical accuracy. Mitra's personal growth is every bit as intriguing as the adventure she experiences. Fletcher includes enough detail from the traditional Nativity story for it to be familiar, but not so much that this is a book for only a Christian audience. This is a well crafted, well researched, and well written story.
VOYA - Cheryl French
Mitra, a teenage girl posing as a boy, scrapes together an existence for herself and her younger brother, Babak, in the dark caves of the City of the Dead. She longs for the life that she used to have and cannot let go of the hope that she will be reinstated to her former royal status. At times, that focus blinds her to everything else. She has learned to be hard, but her soft heart peeks through in her genuine love for Babak and the downtrodden animals in her care. Babak is a dreamer of dreams so powerful that he practically gathers nourishment from them. When he steals a hat and dreams the owner's dream, word of his ability gets out, and soon he and Mitra are tied to a Magus, journeying across Persia in pursuit of a prophecy and in search of home. The characters here are all finely drawn and believable. The story pulls one in to feel Mitra's fears and insecurities and to cringe as she repeatedly trusts the wrong people. Readers familiar with the story of the Three Wise Men might get more out of the setting, but such knowledge is not necessary to enjoy the book. At its heart, the tale is Mitra's coming-of-age story. While Babak's dreams push the plot forward, propelling both their journey and the story onward, Mitra's struggles with identity, love, trust, and betrayal breathe life into the pages.
KLIATT - Donna Scanlon
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2006: Fletcher brings a carefully developed "what if" to fruition in Alphabet of Dreams. Mitra used to live a highborn life in ancient Persia, but her family's downfall has led her to take refuge with her younger brother, Babak, in a network of caves and tombs known as the City of the Dead. There, disguised as a boy, she begs and steals whatever she can to keep them alive in the market of nearby Rhagae. Six-year-old Babek is a vivid dreamer, and when he sleeps with a hat stolen in the marketplace, he experiences a dream from the hat's owner. Reluctantly, Mitra agrees to sell Babak's ability to dream, using as a go-between an old woman, another resident of the City of the Dead. Word of Babak's gift reaches a magus whose caravan rests nearby, and due to the go-between's treachery, Babak and Mitra are soon traveling with not just one but three Magi—Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar—all of whom are following a prophecy and a brilliant star. Over the course of the sometimes-harrowing adventure, Mitra grows up, physically and emotionally, until the book reaches its entirely satisfying conclusion. Mitra narrates the story, and her longing to reclaim her family's place in Persian society drives her. While her single-mindedness sometimes brings disaster, it also means survival. Indeed, concern for Babak is foremost in her mind. Gradually, she is able to extend that concern to others around her. Some readers may find Fletcher's elegantly simple language rough going at first, but eventually the story itself will draw them in. The characters are well rounded and well drawn, each with his or her complexities carefully detailed.An extensive author's note details Fletcher's research on the Magi, the star of Bethlehem, and the historical context of the novel. Reviewer: Donna Scanlon
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Susan Fletcher once again illuminates the scope of history with a personal and engaging story about individual struggles in this novel (Ginee Sea Books, 2006) with a biblical theme. Of royal heritage, their family scattered when their father tried to overthrow the king, 15-year-old Mitra and her younger brother Babak are living in the catacombs of Rhagae in ancient Persia. Mitra disguises herself as a boy and they beg and steal to survive. Then Babak tells of a dream that comes true and Mitra discovers that when Babak sleeps with an item from another person next to his skin, he dreams their dreams. For a time, Mitra parlays this somewhat frightening talent into coppers, saving up for passage to Palmyra, where some kin may still exist. They are soon discovered by a magus, Melchior, who wants Babak to dream only for him. Their journey finally takes them to Bethlehem. This deeply and richly imagined novel, with intricately spun details that bring the story to life, is read with solemnity by actress Meeta Simhan. Mitra's humorless rancor at having sunk so low socially, her absolute determination to find a better way, and her bottomless love for Babak shine through in Simhan's narration. A worthy addition to both public and school libraries.-Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fletcher's inward-looking tale recreates the arduous journey of the Three Wise Men, as seen by a teenager in double disguise. After three years of hiding from the Persian king's soldiers by pretending to be both a boy and a beggar, Mitra, child of a rebellious noble, is swept up by the Magi along with her little brother Babak, who has begun to experience dreams that actually become reality. Impelled by the strange triple conjunction of two planets in the sky, the priests journey across the harsh desert toward distant Jerusalem. On the way, Mitra's dream of being restored to her previous lofty state runs into one snag after another as Babak's health begins to fail, the hunt for her and her brother comes closer and her efforts to hide her sex are complicated by new, strange feelings for two young men she encounters. Fletcher focuses more on emotional than physical landscapes, pushing the historical setting well into the background; Mitra gets nary a glimpse of the baby Jesus, and though she's able to give advance warning of the slaughter of the innocents, that too is left offstage. Still, by the end she has given over her childhood, along with its fantasies, and found a true home. Absorbing. (author's essay) (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689850424
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 8/22/2006
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,075,059
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 760L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Fletcher is the acclaimed author of the Dragon Chronicles, composed of Dragon’s Milk, Flight of the Dragon Kyn, Sign of the Dove, and Ancient, Strange, and Lovely as well as the award-winning Alphabet of Dreams, Shadow Spinner, Walk Across the Sea, and Falcon in the Glass. Ms. Fletcher lives in Wilsonville, Oregon. Visit her at SusanFletcher.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Babak's Dream

When we lived in the City of the Dead, my brother dreamed mostly of food. Banquets he would have there, curled up on the stone floor among the ossuaries — melons and olives, chickpeas and dates, lentils and bread. Even noble folks' food was not too fine for his dreams — honeyed lemon peel and almonds, saffron-roasted flesh of lamb.

How did he know of such food, I used to wonder. Was it seeing it in the marketplace? Or does one's true nature bubble up and show itself in dreams? We'd ceased eating as nobles do three years before, when Babak was scarcely two.

Still, this dream food seemed to satisfy him someway. He did not wake weak and peevish with hunger, as I did. There was a kind of glow upon him while the aftertaste of nocturnal feasts suffused his face with joy.

"Sister!" he would say to me. "Such a dream I had. Roasted chickpeas! I ate till I nearly burst! And oranges, all peeled for me and sprinkled with leaves of mint. And warm rounds of bread with sesame seeds!"

But this talk of feasting only made me hungrier, crankier. "Move your feet, Babak," I would snap at last. I would drag him through the honeycombed cave passageways and out toward the gates of Rhagae.

"You can't eat dreams," I would say.

But I was wrong about that. Dreams can feed you, can send you on journeys to places beyond imagining.

I know this, because it happened to us.

"This way, Babak! Come!"

I snatched his hand and pulled him along the street as he veered toward a broken-winged pigeon that foundered in the dust, then yanked him away from some sobbing beggar woman he was drawn to, drying his tears, because of course he must cry too.

"She's nothing to you, Babak. Remember who you are!" We arrived at the head of the caravan as the first horseman passed the carpet weaver's market. "Look for Suren," I said, though now Babak had no need of instruction. His eyes, fastened on the passing travelers, were hungry with hope.

The swaying tassels, tinkling bells, and bright-woven saddlebags lent the caravan a festive air. Seemed to presage a celebration. A songbird trilled from its gilded cage, and a net filled with cooking pots clanked merrily. A camel-riding musician struck up a tune on a double-pipe; another shook a tambourine, filling the air with its gay, rhythmic jingle. Though I tried to fend it off, I too felt hope seeping into the chambers of my heart. I breathed it in with the dust that bloomed up from the animals' feet, with the smells of sweat, dung, and spices. A Magus, resplendent in his white cloak and tall cap, rode by astride a magnificent stallion. A lesser priest came behind, swinging a silver thurible that perfumed the air with smoke; another bore aloft the coals of the sacred fire in a brazier of hammered copper. I studied the others' faces as they passed — the horse-archers; the attendants and servants; the camel drovers and donkey drovers; the musicians and entertainers; the pilgrims and merchants and grooms. I willed our brother Suren to be among them, to have attached himself to this caravan and returned to us.

But the last of the travelers passed, and no Suren.

I was reaching for Babak's hand to lead him away — not wanting to look at him, not wanting to see what was gone from his eyes — when I noticed a jostling up ahead, by the fruit seller's market. There was shouting, and cursing, and an exchange of blows — a circumstance made in heaven for us. "Move your feet, Babak!" I said. In a trice I had slipped three pomegranates beneath the folds of my tunic and stripped a sack of dates from a fair-haired Scythian nomad with blue tattoos. The fracas suddenly veered in our direction; the Scythian stumbled, fell, flattened Babak beneath him.

It was then, I now realize — when Babak was pinned beneath the Scythian, when I was kicking the Scythian's back to get him to move — that the man's fur cap fell off. Babak must have tucked it into his sash.

That night, back in the City of the Dead, Babak pillowed his head on lynx fur and dreamed — not of food, but of a birth. A happy occasion. A boy. He recognized the Scythian in the dream. Someone bringing him the baby, settling it in his arms. Someone saying, "Father." Babak dreamed the dream, he told me, as if the Scythian himself were dreaming it.

By chance, we caught sight of the man near the rope makers' market the next day and, before I could stop him, Babak sang out, "A boy! It will be a boy! A healthy boy!"

"Hsst!" I said, and snatched up Babak's hand, and ducked behind a donkey, behind a spice merchant, behind a crumbling wall, and tried to lose ourselves in the crowd before the Scythian could catch us.

But he did.

As it happened, the Scythian didn't recognize Babak from the day before. As it happened, the stolen cap and dates were the last things on his mind. As it happened, he was hoping for tidings — though not from a marketplace waif.

As it happened, his wife was expecting a child.

This dream of my brother's was a good omen, he said, when he had pried it from us. Then he handed Babak a copper. With which we bought food — something I had never done in all the fourteen years of my life.

Copyright © 2006 by Susan Fletcher

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2008

    Interesting twist

    The story of the three wise men has always intrigued me. I loved the twist that Fletcher put on the story. It caused me to reflect, and also want to start building my own theories. It was a wonderful story that I have made many recommendations for. It was well written and touching.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2008

    For History Lovers

    Susan Fletcher¿s Alphabet of Dreams has great potential, but simply cannot live up to its predecessor, The Dragon Chronicles. Alphabet of Dreams tells the story of two siblings separated from their royal parents and brother. Set in Ancient Persia on the road to Jerusalem, Mitra, a 14 year-old girl who tries to escape her captors, cure her sick brother, and find her lost brother. Fletcher¿s Alphabet has a strong beginning, starting with a tale of treachery and supernatural powers, but readers will quickly lose interest with the dull storyline, which features Mitra, constantly worrying about her family and regaining her royal status. The majority of the book revolves on Mitra, complaining about her family and other troubles. Only in the end does the story get more interesting, but by that time readers will have lost interest in Fletcher¿s story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2006

    Cool even for non-Christians

    It may help if you know this is about the gathering of the three wise men, or Magi, who seek the newborn Jesus under the miracle star, but I don't think it's essential. What matters is that Mitra/Ramin and her little brother Babak are on the run from the king's assassins who killed their noble family. Mitra is pretending to be male Ramin to move about in their Persian society, where she must beg and steal for their food. Babak has begun to have dreams of the future when he sleeps with a piece of someone's clothing. Word gets out, of course. Magus Melchior sweeps up Mitra/Ramin and Babak. He doesn't seem to care or notice that the dreams he demands are making the little boy sick. Mitra hopes Babak's dreams will earn enough money to go to a city where she hopes they will find what's left of their family, and return to their old, wealthy lifestyle. In their journey west, collecting the other two wise kings as Babak dreams and drifts into the dream world, Mitra learns that they have enemies, that her old world may be gone for good, and that she has to decide what's really important. I found Mitra's insistence on her old life, when I thought it was clear that life was gone, annoying. Just when I was ready to lose patience with her, she'd be kind to her brother or to one of the ungrateful, ugly animals she encounters. She's a brave girl in a hard world, with a lot of tough decisions to make, and no way of knowing who to trust. Susan Fletcher is always very realistic. She does no cotton candy happy endings, but satisfying ones that make sense. They're believable. This is not prettied-up Bible story, but a genuine tale about actual people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2009

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    Posted August 22, 2009

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