No Ordinary Boy by Tracey Mayhew
Age category: Chapter book
Release Date: October 1, 2020
This is UFM’s first review of a book younger than middle grade. I’ve been reading a lot in this age category lately, both for my own research as I attempt to write a book in it and for a good simple read-aloud book with my kids that won’t take weeks to get through. So when No Ordinary Boy turned up in my list of potential reads on Netgalley, I wanted to give it a try.
The suggested age for the book is seven to nine years. The length of it and the simplicity of the text leans on the younger end of that range. It feels more like a first grader’s chapter book rather than third grade material in that regard. There are, however, suggestions of violence that make the content skew older.
The story follows the spellcaster Merlin when he’s only a small boy. Merlin has strange powers, which the townsfolk like to take advantage of, but he understands he doesn’t truly fit in, either. Of course, people with magic aren’t apt to just be ignored, so one day, Merlin is taken from his home and begins his epic journey to become the legendary wizard everyone knows by name.
The story itself is easy to follow, and the writing has a certain amount of charm to it. The events move quickly from one to another without dragging, though I sometimes wished they wouldn’t go quite so fast. My biggest critique is that the book feels like it forgets the cardinal rule of kid lit: the child has to drive the plot forward, not the adults. For more than half the book, all Merlin’s actions are directed by the adults around him. He is kidnapped from his home, marched across the countryside by a group of knights and a mysterious hooded man, and when he tries to escape or get more information, he is usually met with a wall (metaphorical or otherwise). I understood this was the first of a series. Even so, chapter books generally have self-contained stories. They may reference the character’s past experiences on occasion, but otherwise they introduce a fresh problem, and the solution is driven by the child’s ideas, with adults serving to help execute the idea as needed. Six-and-seven-year-olds don’t like to hear that they need to buy the next book before they get to the good stuff.
Before I get too critical, however, I will note that the whole idea of these books is to introduce Arthurian legend to younger readers, so the stories may not always fit perfectly in the usual chapter book package. The writing works well with what it has. Plus, the illustrations are sweet and bring out the emotion of the characters, showcasing both Merlin’s worry and his calm in the face of drastic change.
If you’ve got a young reader in your life who’s got a budding interest in this topic, give it a try.
Rating: 3 out of 5
You can find No Ordinary Boy on Goodreads
You can also buy No Ordinary Boy: The Legends of King Arthur: Merlin, Magic, and Dragons on Amazon. (Affiliate link)