Lionboyby Zizou Corder
When his parents are kidnapped, what's ten-year-old Charlie Ashanti to do? Rescue them, that's what! He doesn't know who has taken his parents, or why. But he does know that one special talent will aid him on his journey-his amazing ability to speak Cat. Charlie calls on his clever feline friends-from stray city cats to magnificent caged lions-for help. With them… See more details below
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When his parents are kidnapped, what's ten-year-old Charlie Ashanti to do? Rescue them, that's what! He doesn't know who has taken his parents, or why. But he does know that one special talent will aid him on his journey-his amazing ability to speak Cat. Charlie calls on his clever feline friends-from stray city cats to magnificent caged lions-for help. With them by his side, Charlie uses wit and courage to try to find his parents before it's too late.
With its whirlwind action and suspense, Lionboy is a nonstop page-turner. Already being compared to J. K. Rowling, this mother-daughter writing team will fascinate readers of all ages with their Cat-speaking hero!
Read an Excerpt
By Zizou Corder
Puffin BooksCopyright © 2004 Zizou Corder
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOne Saturday afternoon in September Charlie's mum was on a ladder in the backyard, doing things to plants halfway up the wall. Charlie didn't know what, or care. He liked the yard, the gorgeous honey-lemon smell of the flowers, and the great Christmas tree that hung over the back wall, with its shiny silver and green and purple fruits that he would harvest toward midwinter and sell at the market. He liked climbing around in the tree and in the ruins beyond, running down to the river, and talking to the cats that lived down there. But he didn't care what his mum was doing on the ladder-until he heard a shriek and a clatter and a rude word, and he ran out to see.
His mum was on all fours, on the fallen ladder, on the ground, with festoons of the honey-smelling plant around her, her red hair wild and her face as white as ice.
"Stupid, stupid," she was muttering.
"No you're not," said Charlie. He offered her his hand and she pulled up to her feet, wincing. "You wouldn't be a professor if you were stupid."
"Clever people can do stupid things," she said. "Let me into the house."
She hobbled inside and Charlie followed, worried but not worried, because his mum was the strongest, cleverest, bravest person in the world, apart from his dad, of course, and if anyone could handle falling off a ladder, she could.
"Owwwww," she said. Charlie had already passed her the aloe, a piece of chocolate, and a small bottle of her secret shock remedy, which she made in her laboratory and which smelled of comfort and brandy and sweet winter herbs.
"Best take a look," she said, and slid carefully out of the long leather breeches she always wore for outdoor work.
"Owww," they both said, at the sight of the raw red scratches, the pinky purple swellings, and the nasty gashes that adorned her shin. Charlie handed over a clean paper towel and Mum dabbed at her wound.
"Bring me some Bloodstopper Lotion," she said. "Twenty-seven Red. It's in the rack." She handed Charlie the keys to her lab. Charlie smiled. Mum, Professor Magdalen Start, PhD, MD, PQRST, LPO, TP, kept her laboratory locked on strict instructions of the government, indeed of the Empire, because her work was so important that no one was to be allowed to know anything about it. Except of course for Charlie's dad, Aneba Ashanti, Doctor of Endoterica and Tropical Sciences at the University of Accra in Ghana (currently on sabbatical at London University), Chief of Knowledge of all the Tribes of Akan, and Brother of Lions, who knew all about it because they worked together. Charlie's dad knew every thing that had ever been known about the plants of the West African forests, what they were good for, and what was good for them.
"Your mum and I have different ways of knowing about the same thing," Dad would say. "Very good system."
Charlie was honored. Every day these days he was allowed to do new things: new things that showed they realized he was growing up. Last Christmas he'd been allowed to sell the shiny fruit at the market by himself, alone; on his way home from his lessons he was allowed to hang out for a while at the fountain, drinking sherbets and playing football or aware with the other big kids. And now he was allowed to fetch a lotion from his mother's lab. It felt good, being big.
"In the rack by the door," Mum said with a little smile.
He'd been inside the lab before, of course. As a baby, after they'd come here to London from Africa, he'd practically lived in there. While Mum worked, mixing and smelling and flicking between her burners and her computer screen, he would paddle around the place in a sort of pair of shorts hung on a wheeled frame: He could scoot and whiz, and once disappeared completely under a table, so Mum couldn't find him. He'd loved his shorts on wheels.
He loved the lab too. Because it was in a separate shed in the backyard, it had always seemed like a different world. Pushing open the door now, he got a waft of the smell of it: somewhere between a cake baking, old books, sweet strong incense, and underneath it the hard cold smell of science. It looked like it smelled. The walls were old and paneled with well-polished dark wood. The tables to the left were gleaming steel with glass cupboards, VDT screens and instruments of the most precise and modern specifications, while to the left a huge old wooden table stood empty except for a massive globe beneath a rack of hanging dried herbs. Along the back wall were stacked shelf upon shelf upon shelf of books-ancient leather-bound tomes, colorful paperbacks, smart-looking hardbacks, parchments laid out flat, and scrolls, rolled tight and piled carefully, plus CD-roms and DVDs, and old, old thick black vinyl discs, which played on a machine with a huge curling horn. It seemed to Charlie that all the knowledge in the world, past and present, lived in his mother's laboratory, and if it didn't you could find out here where it did live.
By the door was a tall flattish wooden rack, made up of rows of shelves. On each shelf was a row of small, shiny, colored glass bottles, held in place by a little wooden bar along the front. If you looked carefully you could see that the color was not in the glass, but in the contents of the bottle, and they were arranged in order of color like a rainbow: Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet. Charlie craned up to where the reds began in the top left-hand corner, and scanned along the shelves looking for 27 Red. There it was: a deep crimson, blood-colored, only not so thick-looking. He reached up to take it and, giving the lab a last yearning look, took it back to where his mother was waiting in the kitchen.
"Thank you, sweetie," she said, and was just about to lift the lid and drip a drop of the lotion onto her still-bleeding wound, when she hesitated.
"Bring me a pen and paper," she said suddenly.
Charlie fetched one of the strong swirling glass pens that they used for every day, and the green kitchen ink, and a scrap of envelope.
"Proper paper," she said, and he brought a piece of heavy clean parchment from the drawer.
Mum pulled herself up, and as she did so the movement made the blood bubble a little more from her shin. She took no notice. Instead, she lifted her leg and laid it along the kitchen table, as if she were doing her yoga, or ballet. The parchment lay on the kitchen table; the ink was ignored. Mum took the Venetian pen and cautiously dipped it in the beading blood of her wound.
"Don't worry," she said to him. "I just thought of something I've been meaning to do for a while."
He still stared.
Mum started to write. By dipping the sharp little nib in her deepest cut she had enough blood to write a full, elegant paragraph, and a signature.
"What is it?" he asked, feeling a little ill.
"You'll know soon enough," she said. She flapped the parchment gently and watched the scarlet turn to a delicate brown. It looked like a magical text, an ancient spell, a decree by some all-powerful and long-dead king or queen.
"I'm putting it up here," she said as she rolled it up, tied it quickly, and popped it behind the photo of her and Aneba on their honeymoon in Venice, on the top shelf of the cabinet. "And Charlie..." Here she stopped and looked at him, her blue eyes sure and clear: "If you need to go anywhere, take it with you."
A sudden sharp sense of importance welled up inside him. She didn't mean "take it to the bathroom," or "take it when you go to bed." She meant something bigger, more grown-up, more important. Sometimes Charlie felt that the grown-ups around him existed on that other level-talking of things they didn't mention to him, taking care of things, dealing with things that were not to do with children. Until recently he'd ignored it, and carried on reading his book or taking extra cake while they weren't paying attention. But lately ... lately there'd been a lot of talking downstairs after he had gone to bed, a lot of hushed telephone calls, and furrowed brows. This look in his mother's eyes, this sudden mysterious writing in blood, were to do with the same things, he was sure.
Just then the great noise that heralded the Return of Dad started up. There was a Ghanaian song about dinner-delicious mamuna with spicy dawa dawa-that he sang to himself whenever he wasn't doing anything else: "Tuwe tuwe, mamuna tuwe tuwe, abosom dar ama dawa dawa, tuwe tuwe..." You could hear it from the distance as he strolled up the street. Then the firm, solid tread of his feet crossing the yard, and the jangle of his big bunch of keys because once again he hasn't noticed that the door is unlocked. "Three, two, one..." Charlie counted down in his head, and his timing was perfect: On "Blast-off!" came Dad's huge voice calling out, "He-llo! He-llo! Where's my family?"
Charlie's dad, you ought to know, was huge. Not just a big man, but huge. He wasn't technically a giant, but Charlie thought he might have giant blood, and this worried him sometimes because if his dad had giant blood, then so did he, and that made the whole thing of "you're a big boy now, growing nice and big like your dad" a different ball game. Charlie was proud and happy to be brown-both black like his dad and white like his mum, he said-but he wasn't sure he wanted to be giant as well.
Once, in a museum, Charlie had seen some armor from ancient Greek times, a breastplate made in the shape of a man's body, with all the muscles and even the belly button molded in beaten bronze. That's what Charlie's dad looked like with his shirt off. Like he was still wearing armor. He had huge arms, and the veins on them looked like rivers on a map, only they stood out; he had huge legs, and shoulders as wide as a small shed, and a neck like a tree, and he walked straight and tall and smiling, and everyone got out of his way and turned to look at him after he had passed. When he closed down the smile in his eyes, and let his mouth lie stern, he was the most frightening-looking man. Then when his smile burst through and his white teeth shone and his eyes crinkled up and his cheeks went into little apple shapes, he was like the god of happiness.
"We're in the kitchen," called Mum.
"She's broken," called Charlie.
"No I'm not," said Mum, finally dripping the Bloodstopper Lotion onto her cuts, and the evening descended into a sweet time of Mum lying around telling jokes, Dad cooking dinner, Charlie watching The Simpsons and staying up late because there are no lessons on Sunday. He forgot all about the parchment written in blood, and didn't think of it again until six months later, when he came home to find that his parents had disappeared.
Chapter TwoHe'd been at his lessons with Brother Jerome: Arabic, Latin, mathematics, music, and the history of human flight, and his head was aching from the amount of studying he had done. Mum said he learned more being on his own with a tutor and no doubt it was true, but sometimes he just wanted to fool around a bit during his lessons, like he'd read about in stories, and how could you do that on your own? So after his lessons on that day he headed down to the fountain to play football with the schoolkids. Steve Ubsworth might be there, or Lolo and Jake, or Becks and Joe Lockhart.
None of them were around. But Rafi Sadler was. He was leaning against the tree and calling younger boys to him with a flick of his head, and whispering to them. Rafi certainly wasn't a schoolkid, and he was too old to be called a boy, but he wasn't really an adult either. Everybody knew Rafi. He was tall and handsome with sleek shaved black hair, and he gazed at you from big brown eyes with the thickest lashes-almost girly lashes, but no one would say that. He wore a long leather jacket and had a funny little light beard, shaved into shape. He wasn't really old enough to have a beard and it wasn't a very good one. He always had money and adults sometimes wondered where it came from.
Today Rafi deigned to join in the football for a minute or two. People let him through, and didn't tackle him, and not just because he was strong. Soon he went back to leaning, and talking on his cell phone. Part of Charlie longed for Rafi to call him over, but Rafi had never taken much notice of Charlie.
The football had made them hot, so they all got some cherry sherbet off the guy with his white wooden cart piled high with crimson cherries and jugs of sugar-cane syrup, and drank it frothy and cool from his tall glasses. One of Rafi's boys took him a glass, but he didn't touch it. Instead, he strolled over to where Charlie was.
"Nice haircut," he said. Charlie's mum had shaved his head the day before. This time she'd cut in a design of two crocodiles with one belly-each had a head and a tail and four legs, but they were set like an X, and the center of the X was their shared belly. It was an Adinkra symbol from Ghana: It was about how, though we all eat with different mouths, we have only one belly between us.
"Thanks," said Charlie, surprised. Rafi never talked to him. Charlie's parents used to know his mum, Martha, and Charlie knew that Rafi lived alone with her, and had left school years ago and had been in trouble, and he knew that Rafi was not the kind of guy who would talk to him. That's all he knew.
Charlie couldn't think of anything else more interesting to say. He smiled again, and then kind of nodded. Then Rafi had strolled away again, and Charlie was so embarrassed that he went home.
The sun was heading west, and as he got back toward his street he could smell the evening river smell rising up cool and damp to meet the evening cooking smell of woodsmoke and garlic. The flowers hung heavy on the trees in the front gardens as he turned into his street. He was wondering what was for supper and hoping there would be some cherries left over from breakfast. He'd be sorry when the cherry glut was over-but soon the gardens would be full of strawberries, so there was that to look forward to. And who knows, maybe a ship full of fruit would come up from the south. As he approached his house, he was fantasizing about the old days, when you got all different kinds of fruit at all different times of year, coming in airplanes from far, far away ... Ah, well. Cherries would do for now.
When he got to his front garden, the door was closed. There were no lights on, and there was no good smell seeping out. He banged on the door: nothing. He peered through the window: He couldn't make out much in the dim light, but he could see there was no movement, no sign of life.
Charlie went around to the back. Back door shut, no lights. He banged on that door. Nothing. Turning to the wall to see if there were any cats around, whom he could ask if they'd seen anyone, he saw something that clutched his heart. The door of his mother's lab was open. Not just unlocked-open.
He stared at it for a moment.
Excerpted from Lionboy by Zizou Corder Copyright © 2004 by Zizou Corder. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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