Imagine being able to jump into any one of your favorite books and watch the story unfold. Want to drink tea with the Mad Hatter? Want to run into Jane and Elizabeth Bennett on a walk in the countryside? Or maybe you have a taste for Wonka Bars? That’s no problem for Bethany, one of the main characters in Story Thieves. As a half fictional character and half human kid, she has a special talent. But, it isn’t one she uses very often, until now.
Riley’s first installment in the Story Thieves series is about Bethany and Owen. One day at school, Owen discovers Bethany’s secret and it isn’t long before they are both on fictional and real adventures. Quick recap.
Bethany has a secret. She can jump in and out of her favorite stories. Her fictional father has disappeared into a book and she’s on the hunt to find him, unknown to her mother who would totally disapprove. Owen, a classmate, discovers her secret one day when she comes back from Willy Wonka’s factory with chocolate treats. All Owen wants is to jump into his favorite book series about Kiel Gnomenfoot, especially with the seventh–and final book–being published. Bethany has strict rules for her travels through tales. Owen talks her into jumping into the sixth Kiel book to get a “finding spell” to help her find her father. That’s when all the things go wrong. Bethany has to try to stop a magician from turning the real world upside down and Owen is stuck in the final Kiel book trying to keep the story from changing.
As I’ve read with my son, one of our nightly routines, we’ve read a lot of shorter books. This was one of our longer books to read together. It took us some time to finish it, but we really enjoyed it and my kiddo was always eager to “read just one more chapter.” There was adventure, magic and funny quips for the kids. There was a lot for an adult reader as well; references to great works of literature, challenges to long held beliefs and what it means to challenge yourself to see things through. And, who am I kidding, I was there for the adventure, magic and funny quips.
Once a couple of chapters into the story, Bethany finds herself in our world with Kiel Gnomenfoot attempting to stop a powerful magician from bringing all the mythical monsters out of their stories. Owen, though, is stuck in the Kiel Gnomenfoot books with a half-robot girl named Charm trying to see the book series through to the end.
Bethany, who has strict rules about books and not messing up the story, finds herself up against a tough magician. She joins forces with Kiel and through him learns some valuable lessons about her power and how to think on her feet. Even when faced with the possibility of spending time with her father, she chooses to take the harder route. She chooses to fight a hard fight.
Owen, who was sure there would be nothing cooler than being Kiel, is, at first, totally stoked to be fighting the fight with Charm, Kiel’s friend. He’s disguised as Kiel, using magic, and gets to go up against Dr. Verity, the evil scientist bound on ridding the fictional world of magic. Charm isn’t so sure about this Kiel at first. He isn’t as fearless and quippy as usual. Over the course of Owen playing out the final Kiel book, he learns fictional characters can become best friends and sacrifices, even fictional ones, can hurt just as much as those in the real world.
After all, books were the truest form of magic that existed, in a lot of ways. If he’d learned nothing else in the last day or so, it’d been that. –Story Thieves
There are big themes in this kid’s book, some of which I’ve already mentioned. The one that impressed me the most though was learning that people aren’t always what we think they are and we can learn things from them. Bethany and Owen were both challenged by the characters from the Kiel Gnomenfoot books. Charm challenged Owen’s ideas of who he though Kiel was and who Owen needed to be to see the story to its end. Owen learned that Charm was much more than just a fictional character.
In a similar fashion, Bethany and Kiel pushed each other. In the end, I think Bethany probably showed the most growth. Kiel forced her to view who she was a little differently. Half fictional? Embrace it and start thinking more like a fictional character.
It was fun to talk about these changes in the characters throughout the book with my son. It prompted good conversation about being open to those around us and knowing that we can often learn new things in surprising places.
We’re excited to read the next installment of this series and see just where Owen, Bethany and maybe even Kiel might be headed.