This book used to be part of the reading curriculum at two of my previous schools. I enjoyed it for a couple reasons. First, it’s science fiction that takes place on Earth. No aliens, no spaceships. Just holophones and mile-high buildings you reach via hovercrafts. Second, it takes place in Africa (Zimbabwe, to be precise) and weaves some African folklore and culture into this futuristic setting. Most importantly, it’s about a boy who learns that he has more courage within him than he ever suspected, and I love stories where kids find the courage to be heroes.
Author: Nancy Farmer
Age group: Upper middle grade (Ages 11 and up)
Genre: Science Fiction
Synopsis: The year is 2194, and General Matsika has many enemies in Zimbabwe. His eldest son, thirteen-year-old Tendai, wants to earn his merit badge for exploring in order to become an Eagle Scout. However, General Matsika won’t let his children out of the protective confines of his home. Despite his father’s warnings, Tendai sneaks out of the house with his younger brother and sister in order to trek across the city and earn their merit badges. With little “street smarts,” the three soon find themselves kidnapped and working as slaves. Meanwhile, their mother sends out three mutant detectives (nicknamed Ear, Eye, and Arm for their special abilities) to find the children.
Does it pass the “Homeschool Mom Test“? Yes, unless you have problems with your children learning about African mythology and religious beliefs. (Note: I taught this book at parochial schools and never had a parent complain. I’d consider it akin to reading books with ancient Greek and Roman mythology.)