Characters face challenges in ‘quest stories’


This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by four area teachers of children’s literature. Today’s reviews are by Melissa Cain, professor at the University of Findlay.

One of the oldest forms of story is the quest, in which a main character goes on a journey in search of something, often a special or magical object, but, in the process, gains a greater understanding of self. These books show the wide variety of forms the quest story can take.

Wonder. By R. J. Palacio. Alfred A Knopf. $15.99.

Home schooled because of a severe facial deformity, fifth-grader Auggie Pullman’s quest is to finally experience school. He struggles to find friends who, like his family, see the ordinary person beneath. Despite stares, looks of horror, and a mean campaign not to touch him, plucky Auggie demonstrates Henry Ward Beecher’s axiom, “He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.”

Spindlers. By Lauren Oliver. Harper. $16.99.

One morning Liza realizes something is wrong with her brother. Usually grubby, quirky, and annoying, something is missing behind the eyes. He is a changing: the Spindlers, giant spider people, have stolen his soul. Liza sets off with only a broom and her wits, entering the world Below on a quest to retrieve Patrick’s soul. Her fantastical adventure leads her to appreciate her family, even if it’s imperfect.

The Magician’s Apprentice. By Kate Banks. Illustrated by Peter Sis. Farrar Straus Giroux. $16.99.

This is a classic journey of self-discovery. Baz is apprenticed to a cruel weaver, who sells him to a magician, Tadis, for a sword. Tadis becomes a wise and sometimes confusing mentor to Baz as they go on a journey together, facing challenges such as earthquakes, sandstorms, and robbers. Banks beautifully describes both Baz’s inner and outer journey as he comes to understand that life is in the journey.

Reached. By Ally Condie. Dutton, $17.99.

The dystopian Matched Trilogy began when Cassia was matched to two young men, Ky and Xander, a mistake by their nearly perfect, but restrictive, Society. Cassia used a banned poem to travel to the Rising, a rebel group. In this gripping conclusion, a manipulated plague blurs the lines between the Rising and the Society. While the friends help find a cure, changes begin, giving hope of new freedoms.

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown. By Sally M. Walker. Illustrated by Sean Qualls. Harper. $17.99.

This is the true story of a slave born into a family that made him strong through stories and songs. Most cherished was his freedom song, which he could only sing silently. After his family is sold, Henry, assisted by abolitionists, ships himself north in a crate. His harrowing journey is described in lyrical prose, illustrated with somber paintings that incorporate symbols of hope such as fireworks and balloons.

Susan B. Anthony. Written and illustrated by Alexandra Wallner. Holiday House. $16.95.

Born in 1820, Susan B. Anthony’s quest was to campaign for equal rights for slaves and women. She forged forward alone until meeting Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who helped her organize. This “most hated and most loved woman in America” didn’t live to see women’s suffrage accomplished, but her followers carried her cause to its fruition in the 19th Amendment, paving the way for the rights women enjoy today.