BN.com Gift Guide

The Real Boy

Overview

National Book Award Longlist
2014 Bank Street Children's Book Committee Best Book of the Year
"Beautifully written and elegantly structured, this fantasy is as real as it gets."—Franny Billingsley, author of Chime

The Real Boy, Anne Ursu's follow-up to her widely acclaimed and beloved middle grade fantasy Breadcrumbs, is a spellbinding tale of the power we all wield, great ...

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The Real Boy

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Overview

National Book Award Longlist
2014 Bank Street Children's Book Committee Best Book of the Year
"Beautifully written and elegantly structured, this fantasy is as real as it gets."—Franny Billingsley, author of Chime

The Real Boy, Anne Ursu's follow-up to her widely acclaimed and beloved middle grade fantasy Breadcrumbs, is a spellbinding tale of the power we all wield, great and small.

On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy named Oscar. Oscar is a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the village, and spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master's shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar's world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.

But now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill, and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the forest will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.

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Editorial Reviews

Linda Urban
“Anne Ursu has created a brilliant fantasy, alive with the smells and sights and sounds of a place both familiar and strange - but the true magic of The Real Boy lies in the powerful friendship that grows between Callie and Oscar. A joy to read.”
Nancy Farmer
“The Real Boy is an engaging fable about what happens when people reject real life in favor of pleasure, of magic. I enjoyed it very much.”
Franny Billingsley
“Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy is a fantasy in the truest, deepest sense: it illuminates the human experience by giving substance and shape to that which is otherwise intangible. Beautifully written and elegantly structured, this fantasy is as real as it gets.”
The Horn Book
“It’s all highly rewarding and involving, with a tight plot, resonant themes, a gripping adventure, a clearly limned fantasy landscape, and a sympathetic main character.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Deeply moving, with language powerful and true as a child’s voice. Grade: A.”
Betsy Bird
“Wholly unexpected with plot twists and turns you won’t see coming, no matter how hard you squint, Ursu’s is a book worth nabbing for your own sweet self. Grab that puppy up.”
Anita Silvey
“Anne Ursu keeps readers turning the pages until the unexpected but satisfying ending of the story…. I believe this book will be around for a long, long time.”
Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“Anne Ursu’s (Breadcrumbs) latest novel explores what makes someone (or something) ‘real.’ The author mines the potential of magic and mystery in the story of 11-year-old Oscar, whom Master Caleb, ‘the first magician in a generation,’ plucked from the orphanage.”
Richie's Picks
“There is such richness to this tale about a world seemingly falling apart. All of the fairy tale allusions. But in the end, The Real Boy is such a compelling fantasy story because of the two children who, amidst the chaos of their world, can help each other so much.”
The New York Times Book Review - Chelsey Philpot
…a lovely and sophisticated new middle-grade fantasy that asks readers to wrap their heads around abstractions and accept a lack of absolutes. There is no one bad guy, people are simultaneously greedy and miraculous, and even a monster deserves understanding…The Real Boy contains delicate allusions to The Adventures of Pinocchio, by the 19th-century Italian author Carlo Collodi…and is rich with beautiful, heady notions that demand to be lingered over…Readers will need to go slowly, both to savor Ursu's descriptions and to avoid confusion. As Oscar and Callie try to understand their history and why Aletheia's magic is losing strength, they develop and discard theories the way citizens of Asteri might throw away old charms, but those who stay with their mission will be aptly rewarded.
Publishers Weekly
09/16/2013
Oscar is the magician’s hand, charged with collecting plants to concoct spells, and lives happily hidden away, with his cats, in the cellar of Master Caleb’s shop in the Barrow, outside the walled city of Asteri. (Ursu subtly delineates tics that suggest 11-year-old Oscar may be autistic.) Then Master Caleb disappears for mysterious obligations on the continent, and the bane of Oscar’s existence, the magician’s apprentice, is killed. Oscar’s world crumbles. Unprepared to deal with customers, he receives help from the Healer’s apprentice, Callie, but Oscar realizes his inability to make small talk is more than shyness: there is something off about him. It gets worse: his garden is ravaged, the city’s children fall ill, and a monster stalks the countryside. It’s left to Oscar and Callie to save Asteri. Adult readers will savor Ursu’s allusions to well-known fairy tales—most significantly, Pinocchio—and appreciate the many well-turned phrases. But the story has some gaps, and a message about the failings of magic may disappoint younger fantasy fans. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. Illustrator’s agent: Susan Cohen, Writers House. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Suzanna E. Henshon
What does it feel like to live in a magical world? To mix potions and spells that change peoples’ lives and destinies? For as long as he can remember, Oscar has lived in the basement of a magician’s home. In his work for Caleb the magician, Oscar spends his days learning how to mix herbs and potions, but he is intimidated by the idea of working in the store upstairs until Wolf, the apprentice, dies in an accident. Oscar loves to explore and learn, and he soon discovers that the world that he lives in was once filled with wizards. But the wizards are gone now, and the magic has lost its original power. Children in Asteri are dying of a mysterious illness, and Oscar is determined to do whatever he can to help. He discovers that magic is not always a good thing, and that some powers are beyond our understanding in this epic story. Ann Ursu touches magic in this narrative. Reviewer: Suzanna E. Henshon, Ph.D. AGERANGE: Ages 8 to 12.
School Library Journal
★ 11/01/2013
Gr 4–7—The island of Aletheia boasts as its crown jewel the city of Asteri, powered by the lingering magic of ancient wizards. Nowadays there is only one, mildly magical magician, Caleb, and his lowly assistant, Oscar, to provide magical solutions for Asteri's demanding residents. People, social situations, and breaks in routine discomfit the orphaned Oscar in ways reminiscent of autistic spectrum children. He prefers to gather plants from the forest and converse with Caleb's cats. Circumstances force Oscar to depart from routine when Asteri's magic goes awry. Oscar teams up with Callie, the healer's apprentice, to cure the ailments and repair the broken magic that threatens Aletheia. In the process, Oscar discovers Caleb's illicit use of magic, questioning his own origins and purpose. This is a tale replete with memorable settings and weighty issues. Readers will dog Oscar's footsteps, wondering as he does, when magic moves from being a gift to becoming a crutch. His friendship with Callie serves as a bridge between him and the larger community, and it often puzzles him. Ursu subtly proves that Oscar and Callie have a mutually beneficial relationship that gives both needed insight and support. As the novel concludes, the dense plotlines pull in as tight as they can, but there are still unanswered questions and a rather quick ending. Still, Oscar's tremendous heart fills every nook of this richly told story. His heroic stumbles will fondly remind readers of Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted (HarperCollins, 1997) and Meg from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.—Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT
Kirkus Reviews
An isolated, insecure orphan living in magical Aletheia becomes a "real boy" when his ordered world crumbles and he must rely on himself. Since coming to the Barrow, 11-year-old Oscar has lived in magician Caleb's cellar, where he performs menial tasks preparing herbs. The Barrow encircles a shining, walled town whose privileged residents depend on the Barrow's magic smiths to supply them with protective potions, salves, charms and spells. Clueless about people, Oscar loves plants, including the wizard trees that infuse the Barrow's soil with magic. When urgent business takes Caleb away, his apprentice is murdered, and Oscar must run Caleb's shop. Lacking social skills, Oscar longs to fold "up, like an envelope," but he manages the shop with help from a kindhearted girl who befriends him. Suddenly, more terrible things happen: Children begin to ail, wizard trees are felled, and a sinister creature kills Caleb and threatens the Barrow. Determined to find why magic no longer protects everyone and burdened with many characteristics of autism, the unlikely Oscar realizes it's up to him. Incorporating fairy-tale elements, Oscar's story unfolds slowly as he overcomes his phobias and discovers that friendship trumps magic any day. Black-and-white illustrations capture story highlights. A good pick for fairy-tale fans, especially those battling their own fears. (map) (Fantasy. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062015082
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/3/2015
  • Pages: 352
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Ursu

Anne Ursu is the author of Breadcrumbs, which Kirkus Reviews called a "transforming testament to the power of friendship" in a starred review, and was acclaimed as one of the best books of 2011 by The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Amazon.com, and the Chicago Public Library. It was also on the IndieBound Next List and was an NPR Backseat Book Club featured selection. She was also the recipient of the 2013 McKnight Fellowship Award in Children's Literature. Anne teaches at Hamline University's MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Minneapolis with her son and four cats—monster fighters, all.

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