The Real Boy



Shy boy fights monsters, makes friend in powerful fantasy.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Includes some powerful metaphors about class and the pitfalls of relying on money to bring you happiness.

Positive messages

You can learn to be a friend even if doesn't come easily to you. Getting everything you want in life isn't necessarily a good thing, and greed can put you in dangerous situations. It's unhealthy for parents to protect their children from ever experiencing anything bad.

Positive role models

Oscar is more comfortable with cats and herbs than with people, but when he meets Callie he works hard to understand what it means to both be and have a friend. Although he's always prided himself on being loyal and hardworking, he learns that sometimes it's even more important to think for yourself to do the right thing. Callie's a steadfast friend with an instinctive understanding of Oscar's communication difficulties and a gentle but firm way of guiding him into the world of human relationships.


A huge monster made of dirt and reminiscent of a golem kills someone and leaves him "in bits." The monster later breaks another person's neck, but no specific gore is described. In one scene, the monster chases Oscar with intent to kill him.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Real Boy is an exciting fantasy by Anne Ursu (Breadcrumbs) with magic-laden action and a monster who destroys property and kills people, including a father figure (although not a very loving one). Young Oscar and Callie both are abandoned by the grown-ups who are supposed to care for them, and the kids are forced to navigate difficult situations they're put in due to adult greed. Several kids get very sick, and there's mention of kids who died of sickness in the past.

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What's the story?

Oscar's never felt like he belongs in the world of people. He feels much more comfortable staying with his cats in the magician's cellar and grinding herbs, occasionally venturing into the forest to collect plants. But then his magician master abandons him, and the healer's apprentice, Callie, befriends him. Meanwhile, the villagers and city dwellers are suddenly barraging Oscar with questions: Why did the magician leave? What kind of creature is killing people in the forest? Who is stealing magical items from the village? Most of all, why are the wealthy children of the city suddenly getting sick? Reluctantly at first, but with a growing sense of responsibility, Oscar joins forces with Callie to answer these questions and uncover the secrets of their world's magical history.

Is it any good?


THE REAL BOY weaves in elements of PinocchioThe Sorcerer's Apprentice, and golem folktales to create an engaging original story. It's a tale about the follies of greed and grown-ups who think they deserve to have everything come easily to them without considering the many people who have less than they do.

However, kids don't need to draw parallels to the Occupy movement to enjoy this story: Oscar's a smart, likable character, and if his meekness at first seems like a weakness, Callie's bravery and confidence more than make up for it. As in author Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs, the pacing is perfect, mixing exciting, magic-laden action with Oscar's inner development from a lonely boy into a brave friend.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how The Real Boy reflects the digital divide. How are the lives of people without magic similar to the lives of people who don't have technology?

  • Would you rather have access to the magic in The Real Boy or the technology of today?

  • How is The Real Boy like a fairy tale?

Book details

Author:Anne Ursu
Illustrator:Erin McGuire
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Walden Pond Press
Publication date:September 24, 2013
Number of pages:352
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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