Story Thieves, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Story Thieves, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Kids jump in and out of book worlds in wacky series start.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 8 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Since Story Thieves involves characters who travel in and out of fictional worlds, many books get a mention, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Harry Potter series to Emma and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Characters usually spend little time in the referenced realities, which function mainly as in-jokes for those who know the material and which might spark interest from those who don't.

Positive Messages

Friendship, bravery, sacrifice, resourcefulness, and coping with ever-changing realities. Also, learning to get along with very different people, and the ability to change your mind.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although fairly cartoonish and one-note, the four protagonists ("real" and "fictional") learn some important, character-building life lessons, especially about bravery, selflessness, and a sense of humor. Adults, who range from powerful magicians to bewildered book authors, often aren't what they seem.

Violence & Scariness

Most of the violence is fantasy-world cartoonish rather than real-world scary. Protagonists face attacks from magic spells, death rays, killer robots, and zombies, among other hazards, and one is called upon to have his heart removed. A character has a chip surgically implanted in his neck by robots (but it seems to have no ill effects), and another has been so injured in past conflicts that half her body is robotic. Bethany is traumatized by the loss of her father, who disappeared into a book early in her childhood.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that just about everything about Story Thieves, the series opener from Half Upon a Time author James Riley, has probably been done better elsewhere, from robots, zombies, and magical weapons to pondering such big issues as free will, fiction vs. reality, and the clash between science and imagination. That doesn't mean this wild mash-up won't find an appreciative audience, especially among kids who spend a lot of time in virtual worlds (especially video games), where the pacing is frenetic, just about anything can happen, and making sense is optional. There's violence aplenty, from impending planetary doom to weird robotic surgeries, but it's usually brief and almost always cartoonish. The young (they're studying fractions in school) protagonists often are pretty one-note, but they learn a few things about bravery, looking out for one another, dealing with unexpected developments, and averting cosmic disaster. Book 2 in the series, The Stolen Chapters, was released J. 19, 2016.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Kid, 11 years old April 17, 2021

I would give it lower, except it got better towards the end.

I give this 4 stars for concept, 2 stars for execution (at the beginning anyways). It was rather dry and boring. The way the characters lines were just cliched... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old November 29, 2019

The best

Story Thieves
Story Thieves is a fun read. It's about a boy named Owen who sees his classmate Bethany whose half fictional come out of a book. To keep Him... Continue reading

What's the story?

Owen finds life pretty boring. Especially fractions class. Most of his fun comes from reading fantasy books, from the classics (such as the Narnia series) to his favorite, the adventures of Kiel Gnomenfoot (which even Owen admits is kind of a Harry Potter rip-off -- but still). Owen's reread and relived Kiel's exploits many times, and, like the rest of the fan base, is dying of suspense now that the last, cliffhanger-resolving volume is about to hit the shelves. When it turns out that his classmate Bethany can travel back and forth between the real world and the fictional worlds of books, Owen makes her take him to a critical point in one of Kiel's adventures. Things start out awesome but quickly take unexpected turns as he finds several of his favorite characters are quite different from his mental picture. Mayhem and life lessons ensue.

Is it any good?

Part Looney Tunes, part video game, part wizardry, and part science fiction, the story not only requires you to suspend disbelief, it also demands you stop expecting many things to make sense. On the next page or around the next corner, protagonists land in the cyber-grid from TRON, battle the posse of dragons that just turned up on the front lawn, or grapple with the shock of discovering they're only a figment of somebody's imagination. Dozens of books make cameo appearances as characters careen in and out of worlds for split seconds.

Character definition is downright wispy, and plot developments often seem like the author is exuberantly making things up. But sometimes, in this collision of realities, that's part of the charm, and kids who thrive on wisecracking heroes and improbable events will get a kick out of this series opener and eagerly await the next installment: The Stolen Chapters, released Jan. 19, 2016.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why the idea of jumping into a book and being able to leave the real world to live in a fictional world is so popular. What other stories do you know where characters do this? How do they compare with Story Thieves?

  • Why is it often considered a bad idea to go into a story and change it? Do you agree? If you could change something about the way one of your favorite stories goes, what would it be?

  • If you could bring only one fictional character to life in our world, who would it be? Why?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and science fiction

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