Thursday, February 19, 2009

Middle-Grade Fiction Review: Lionboy

Charlie Ashanti is a normal 11-year old boy, except for one unique talent: he can talk to – and understand – cats. At the start of the Lionboy trilogy, Charlie’s mostly ordinary life is suddenly shattered when his scientist parents are kidnapped.

A whirlwind adventure follows as Charlie travels through Paris, Venice, Africa, and the Caribbean in search of his parents and the powerful forces behind their abduction. Along the way, Charlie becomes friends with a group of lions and an odd assortment of humans who aid him in his quest. Here, he meets and speaks to a lion (at the circus) for the first time:

Without thinking, Charlie came up beside the lion and said, in Cat: "Hello."
The lion turned swiftly to him, his sad expression changed in an instant to amazement and - yes - fear. How could a lion be scared of me? thought Charlie. I'm just a kid. But the lion was scared of him.
"What?" said the lion.
"I said hello," said Charlie.
"I heard you," said the lion. "It's just - you're talking Cat."
"I know," said Charlie.
"Humans don't talk Cat," said the lion.
Charlie had never come across this before. All the cats he knew at home knew him and knew about his peculiar ability. He'd learned not to mention it to human strangers; but he hadn't thought that a cat stranger - a lion stranger - would be just as surprised.
"I'm sorry." said Charlie. "I didn't mean to surprise you. I've always known Cat."

This imaginative and compelling story was created by a 12-year old girl and her mother, writing together under the pen name of Zizou Corder. My husband and I read all three Lionboy books to our sons, when they were 11 and 7, at bedtime. The four of us were riveted by the fast-paced story, memorable characters, and exotic locales. The unique settings featured in the books inspired many trips to the Internet and the atlas, to print out photos of Venice and see where exactly Essaouira is located. We all cheered for Charlie and wished that he and the lions were our friends, too. You don’t want to miss this exciting journey!

Recommended for ages 9 and up; ages 7 and up as read aloud.

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