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The Sylvie Cycle #1

The Great Good Thing

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Sylvie had an amazing life, but she didn't get to live it very often.

Sylvie has been a twelve-year-old princess for more than eighty years, ever since the book she lives in was first printed. She's the heroine, and her story is exciting -- but that's the trouble. Her story is always exciting in the same way. Sylvie longs to get away and explore the world outside the confines of her book.

When she breaks the cardinal rule of all storybook characters and looks up at the Reader, Sylvie begins a journey that not even she could have anticipated. And what she accomplishes goes beyond any great good thing she could have imagined...

224 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 2001

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Roderick Townley

18 books44 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 338 reviews
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews155k followers
December 10, 2020

Shout out to this fabulous book in my latest YouTube Video all about my favorite bookish books (and while I attempt a little baking in the background). Thanks for watching and happy reading!

The Written Review:
Sylvie had an amazing life, but she didn't get to live it very often.
Sylvie is (quite literally) a character. She's a princess. A daring-and-dashing heroine. And, most importantly, she's BORED.

She only gets to live her story when a Reader stops by and she's had to go through the same. exact. story. for eighty years.

Her father (the King) and her mother (the Queen) are also trapped like this...only, they don't mind it. They love the order and peace that comes from a story well-performed.

Sylvie longs for action and adventure - for stories where the the ending isn't known and where the criminal aren't just members of her court playing a part.

Then one day, Sylvie explores to the edges of her book and with a deep breath, leaps out of the pages and into the world.

This book just blew me away. I love the story, within a story, within a story aspect. I laughed, I teared up, this book was simply fabulous. I need to find a copy!
The sun shines. Readers read.

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for Bitchin' Reads.
459 reviews122 followers
January 2, 2018
Surprise! I finished my first 2018 read on the first day of the year!

This is a cute, sweet story. A refreshing, clever and fantastical take on what happens to book characters and how stories are created and last in the mind of readers.

I would say this book is very appropriate for children who are getting into reading chapter books, or maybe working toward middle grade books. It isn't complex or heavily written, but it includes language that is well above a beginning reader, especially with some of the sentimental concepts introduced.

I would like to warn that the are a few moments that death of elderly people is discussed. It isn't in depth, and it is handled delicately, but I figured it might be good to know that the subject matter is there in case a young reader has questions or is sensitive to it.

A solid 4 out of 5 bitchin' stars from me! I am holding onto my copy for my future children!
Profile Image for Tijana.
735 reviews191 followers
May 16, 2017
Knjižica koja može da se pročita za sat-dva i istovremeno je namenjena deci od recimo... osam, devet godina?... i njihovim majkama/bakama koje će je verovatno čitati kao solidno turobniju priču.

Taunli od samog početka barata vrlo uspešnim obrtom u „priči o priči“ – ne samo da njegovi junaci, likovi dečje knjige, imaju život nezavisno od zapleta, već se njihovo bivstvovanje u Knjizi organizuje na principu malog pozorišta koje je večito „na gotovs“ – ako Čitalac otvori Knjigu u sredini, svi likovi moraju da se polome ne bi li na vreme stigli do svog mesta na strani i krenuli s recitovanjem teksta; ako Čitalac (Čitateljka) prstom pritisne mesto gde je stala, pritisnuće jadne lopove uz pločnik; ako zatvori knjigu nasred poglavlja, dok princezu guta vrtlog, princeza će lepo da ispliva i dohvati peškir koji je uredno okačen izvan vidokruga.
Iza tog ljupkog ali na duže staze oskudnog koncepta jeste drugi, znatno ozbiljniji – o tome kako se priče prenose iz jedne generacije u drugu, kako se menjaju i na koji način u njima i dalje žive majke, bake i poneki nastavnik geometrije.
Tako da je konačni utisak nekako dvostruk, s jedne strane knjiga je čak preterano penušava i vazdušasta i lagana i nekako proleti bez traga kao... pa kao čokoladna bananica... a s druge strane nudi klasičnu spoznaju „o prolaznosti života i besmrtnosti duše“ koja je, mislim, dovoljno jasna da se poneko osetljivije dete od ovoga smori a da ne zna tačno zašto.
I da, moram reći da je izdanje koje sam ja čitala stvarno predivno dizajnirano, i da su pazili da ima upravo onakve plave platnene korice kakve ima i Knjiga-u-knjizi, i prelom je božanstven, sa raskošno velikim marginama: baš prava Knjiga, da osetite milinu već zato što je držite u rukama.
Profile Image for Greg Kerestan.
1,280 reviews15 followers
May 10, 2016
I vividly remember being sick with a terrible fever during Christmas break back in fourth grade, and cracking this book (a Christmas present from a teacher) on the couch as I rode out my light-headedness. When I finished the novel, I though I had dreamed it. Like Italo Calvino for kids, this book treats the fourth wall as a very real construct, bridging the gap between a fictional book and a nonfictional world. As a writer and an actor, even today I have fond feelings for this book and the way it made me think about writing, and reading, like new.
Profile Image for rivka.
903 reviews
October 16, 2008
Great premise, and a wonderful beginning.

However, after that it wanders hither and yon, an interesting character and a clever notion in search of a plot. They never really find one.

Pre-teens may enjoy it; older kids will probably prefer a story with more of a story.
Profile Image for Ashlee Willis.
Author 2 books178 followers
July 5, 2015
I am going to admit that by the time I got mere pages into this book I had become quite depressed. At the time I read it (a year or two ago) I was well into the later drafts of my OWN book, The Word Changers, and felt more than a little terror at the thought that what I had BELIEVED to be an original idea (characters being alive in their own story) had already been taken! If you're a writer, you may have experienced that same terror before . . . not fun.

However, as I continued to read, I saw that this story was much different than my own. Yes, the characters are alive and basically live their own lives while the pages of the book are closed. Yes, they have to re-enact their story each time someone reads it. But those two rather broad ideas were where the similarities between this book and my own ended.

This book is for a rather young audience. Age 8 and up, I'd say. It's full of wonderful adventure, surprises, and stakes that will make any child want to stay up all night reading it. I delighted in reading it, myself, and I recently found a used copy that I bought for my own (which is what prompted this rather late review of it). I think my 8-yr-old son will love reading it purely for its premise and intrigue, even if it DOES cast a princess as the main character ;)

I recommend to anyone, any age, who enjoys a story with the mystery akin to The Secret Garden, the childlike charm of Winnie the Pooh, and the quirky whimsy of The Princess and the Goblin. In short, a true children's classic.

Profile Image for booklady.
2,235 reviews65 followers
November 3, 2014
The Great Good Thing is the title of the book, the storybook within the book and the deepest desire of the story’s main character, Princess Sylvie, to do some ‘great good thing’. We read this delightful children’s fantasy tale back in 2002 as a family and I’ve never forgotten it.

In The Great Good Thing the book’s characters come to life as soon the covers of the book close. Although not a novel idea, it captured my imagination at the time and I enjoyed it on this reread, although perhaps not quite so much.

Princess Sylvie and her fairy tale family know their places and their lines. There are the king and queen, jester, ladies in waiting, thieves and all the usual assorted court personalities. Their greatest problem seems to be that they have very few readers anymore. Sylvie thinks she has an answer for this when an even greater disaster befalls the residents of the book and they find themselves in search of a new home. New homes present new difficulties. Now resident aliens in someone’s mind, the story characters rely on the person’s dreams to maintain their identity—not the most ideal arrangement under the best circumstances.

How our heroine saves her story for another day is worth discovering. A fun book for any lover of books.
Profile Image for Jean O'Shea.
30 reviews2 followers
November 22, 2008
Twelve-year-old Princess Sylvie's storybook kingdom really is a storybook, where nothing ever changes, even the character's mad scramble to reach their places whenever the book is opened, until Sylvie discovers she can enter new worlds with the Reader, and find new adventures.

I fell in love with this book upon reading the first line: “Sylvie had an amazing life, but she didn't get to live it very often”. I immediately identified with the character, as would many teenagers. However, traveling between the two worlds and adhering viewpoints, time, and change is demanding for the reader. The story may be put down and, ironically, the greatest fear expressed by the characters (vanishing) realized unless there is an absolute buy-in by the reader. I would recommend this book only to the intermediate to advanced reader.

Interest Level:

From School Library Journal
Grade 4-7-The characters in a fairy tale are also the major characters in this novel, and they become involved in the lives of its readers. Within the pages of a storybook, 12-year-old Sylvie, a princess, refuses to consider marriage until she accomplishes one "Great Good Thing," and goes off to aid several animals in distress. Sylvie also violates the cardinal rule of storybooks and looks her Reader right in the eye, establishing a lasting bond with her. She lives the role of an adventurous heroine, rescuing her story when Claire's brother sets the book on fire. She ventures in and out of Claire's dreams. In hazy transitions, the story moves to a subconscious level with all the book characters only alive in the oral retelling, eventually in danger of being forgotten. Numerous supporting characters float in and out of the scenes: Claire's menacing brother; her grandmother (the original Reader who gave her the book); and, eventually her daughter Lily, who saves Sylvie's story from disappearing. However, the movement of characters in one person's dream or waking world to the mind of another is difficult to follow or swallow. This is an extremely clever and multilayered concept, but one has to question the child appeal, even among the most ardent fantasy fans. Most young readers will lose interest in this book long before its admittedly happy conclusion.
Debbie Whitbeck, West Ottawa Public Schools, Holland, MI

From Booklist
Gr. 4-6. When it comes to fairy tales, it's hard to find much new under the sun. But try this. Princess Sophie lives inside a book called The Great Good Thing with her parents, thieves, a prince, the usual suspects. When the Reader opens the book, the story begins, and Sophie plays her spunky role. Unlike the other characters, however, Sophie has an adventurous spirit that leads her outside the margins of her book. In that other world, she befriends the Reader, a girl named Claire, the granddaughter of the first Reader, who is old and ill. Years later, as Claire is dying, Sophie must find a way to implant herself in Claire's daughter's memory so the characters of the book can survive. Sophie is a dynamic character who stays true to her fairy-tale roots even as she literally pushes the boundaries of her world. Less successful are the human characters; it seems their role is to show the impermanence of the temporal world, not a natural topic for kids. What's most interesting here is the concept. Townley sets a difficult task for himself. He must maintain the integrity of the storybook world--lights must go on when the book covers close, and one-dimensional characters must still show some life--and at the same time, integrate the storybook characters into the "real" world. He mostly succeeds, but even when he doesn't, it's fun to watch him try. Ilene Cooper

Profile Image for Paola (A Novel Idea).
179 reviews34 followers
March 16, 2013
Originally posted at A Novel Idea Reviews

Rating: 3.5/5

When the book is opened, everyone must scramble to their places and everyone must remember their lines. But the first rule, and decidedly the most important, is to never look at the Reader. Sylvie, a veteran at her job of being a storybook princess after being the book’s main character for upwards of 80 years and throughout many Readings and Re-Readings, nevertheless longs for something more. She has lived the same adventure so many times that she can’t help but wonder what lies outside the margins, the printed words and the scenes she has acted out with the others for so long. And so, one momentous day, Sylvie breaks the rules and looks up at the Reader. What follows is an adventure beyond her wildest imagination, unscripted and uncertain. She soon realizes that it’s extremely different to live every day without knowing the ending.

I’ve read a lot of books about people who love to read, but this is probably one of the few books I’ve read which focus on the people actually being read about. This is the story of a cast of characters who live and re-live their story every time someone picks up their book and reads it. Like actors on a stage, they must scramble to their places, remember what to say and when to say it, and throw themselves into every performance. It was an interesting take on things, certainly, and I definitely enjoyed reading the story. I appreciated that, even though Sylvie was a storybook princess in the classical sense, she was by no means classical, even in her original story and even before she broke the rules that led to her further adventures. Sylvie had spirit, courage, and intelligence. No one was going to rescue her, because she could do it herself. The writing and its wry humor, with a play on the traditional fairytale, was a lot of fun for me. I would compare it to The Light Princess, which was another book I enjoyed. Apparently, it’s part of a series of books about Sylvie and her continuing escapades, but I haven’t quite gotten to those yet. While there were parts that were sort of less cohesive than the rest, I still really liked it!
Profile Image for Keith.
468 reviews2 followers
February 12, 2012
A pure pleasure read. In this book, the characters are actually alive inside a storybook. When the book is closed "back up lights" come on and the characters relax a bit until the next reader comes along. When the reader shows up, they dash to their proper pages and recite their dialogue. The princess Sylvie discovers that she can make a leap from the pages of the book into the dreams of the reader. In this dream-scape she actually meets the reader and becomes her friend. Eventually all the characters from the book must flee from the pages to the reader's mind to escape the fire that has been set to their book. The second half of the book is about what happens in the reader's mind as the characters try to build a new life there. The style of the book is clear, simple, and poetic. I highly recommend this book to either a child or an adult. It's the second time I've read it and loved every minute of it.
Profile Image for Lisa the Librarian.
386 reviews52 followers
June 28, 2009
I loved the begining premise of this book. That the characters in the story existed within the book and could act independantly when the book was not being read. Rushing to the correct page when the book wa opened by a "Reader".

Unfortunately, it got confusing and convoluted and the more it became so, the less interested I was and the less I enjoyed the book.

I don't want to say how it become confusing because that would give spoilers.

Great premise, imaginative elements, messy application.
Profile Image for R. G. Nairam.
696 reviews39 followers
May 3, 2022
29 April, 2014:

This is another of those books I can't quite explain my liking for. It's a story of book characters, their Readers, and their author.

Strangely enough, both my sister and I read it when we were young and then kind of forgot about it, only to discover it years later. It's one of those books that kind of slips the mind unless it's in front of you. Oh, /that/ book! I loved that book! What was it called?

I don't know if that's really a good sign or not, but I like it in some of the books I read--they're always a surprise when they're rediscovered.
Profile Image for Kimberly Karalius.
Author 7 books221 followers
March 30, 2019
I was a little annoyed that a few characters introduced early had gone unaccounted for in the story (like the disguised prince - I must be the only one who cared that he forgotten in the narrative. Like, she’s supposed to marry him, and yet she describes him as horrible multiple times. We never see him but Sylvie has multiple scenes with the legit villains), but other than that, it was a pretty cool concept and Sylvie was a great heroine.
Profile Image for Naomi Ruth.
1,583 reviews45 followers
March 5, 2014
This was a wonderful magical story. I have always enjoyed the idea of "what do characters do when no one is looking" and I think this book played with that idea masterfully. I would love to see this rendered into a film by someone who knows what they are doing. The first 10-15 pages in particular are fantastic, having Sylvie run to page 3 and so on and so forth. Definitely a book worth reading.
Profile Image for Brenna.
332 reviews7 followers
July 7, 2018
I adore this book! Incredibly unique, I've never read a book with the plot of the characters being alive and having Readers read them. Goodness, what an adventure for the characters and what a journey for Sylvie. She learned what real life looked like to grow up and at the same time learned what her great, good thing in life is: to tell one great, good story to be shared with all people. I am shocked I did not know of this book before, beautiful read indeed.
Profile Image for Kimberley.
481 reviews3 followers
May 9, 2021
What a lovely book! It was a fun, easy read. It is marketed for ages 8 - 14, but I completely enjoyed it. After all, a good story is a good story.

Princess Sylvie and a cast of characters live a life inside their book when a Reader isn't reading their story. The rule is to never look directly look at the Reader, but Princess Sylvie just can't resist...and that's when a new adventure begins for Princess Sylvie.

While this is a delightful story, it really does speak to the heart about friendship and family and the love of stories and remembering loved ones. ❤
December 19, 2022

It was never unusual for my mother to buy books for me. It was unusual for her to buy them without my input. One day she handed me “The Great Good Thing.”

“It looks like something you’d enjoy,” she said.

I should’ve read it then, but I didn’t. I went through a phase in college and graduate school where all my reading was course related, and so, this book sat on my shelf for a very, very long time.

Until the day my sister asked for book recommendations for her eight year old daughter. I went through my usual list, then headed for my bookshelf, intent on finding other books to send her. (If you have recommendations, please drop them in the comments.) I don’t get to see my nieces and nephew very often; they live across the country, and while I know they love me, I hate being absent in their lives. So if I’m able to send or do, I try my best.

“The Great Good Thing” will soon find its way into my unicorn, mermaid, and princess loving niece’s hands. It is such a fun, thoughtful, poignant book I have to send it her way because, as Sylvie, the princess and protagonist of the tale proves, good books are meant to be shared.

“‘The wilderness is littered with forgotten stories that will never be retold.'” (pg. 169)

Sylvie has been a twelve-year-old princess for more than eighty years. Her story is a good one, great even, but it’s the same each time it’s read, and Sylvie is bored with the same old story. They’ve been on the shelf so long it comes as a surprise one day when a reader picks up the book and begins to read. It comes as an even bigger surprise when Sylvie looks up, and decides to see what’s beyond the pages of her book.

I am, at heart, a storyteller, and sometimes I am absolutely consumed with frustration at the lack of originality in books, television, and movies today. This from a woman who wrote her thesis (happily) on fairytale retellings. I can tell you now, I have never read anything quite like “The Great Good Thing.” Yes, there is a king and queen, a prince and princess, a magical curse, and a few faithful (even magical) animal friends; they are, after all, part of Sylvie’s story. But there is so much more: book characters interacting with readers, deep generational ties, a sense of loss, adventure, fear of the unknown, and courage to do the hard thing asked of you.

Townley’s novel is creative in a way I’ve never read. We see Sylvie in her world, but we see her readers in theirs, too. We see how they need Sylvie, and how Sylvie needs them. We see the dramatic impact of stories, and how they can comfort us in times of our deepest sorrow. There is so much beauty in this little book, but my favorite part is towards the end on page 190; Sylvie and the First Reader are talking about Claire, another dearly loved reader. They discuss how all Claire wanted was to do a great, good thing, but never thought herself capable. Perhaps, even at the end of her long life, she thought it impossible, but those who knew her and loved her best knew better. Her great good things were many, particularly her kindness, which they ultimately recalled.

“The Great Good Thing” is a dear book, and I highly recommend reading it with your kids. It is part of a trilogy, but if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I’ll read the other two. I love how “The Great Good Thing” ended, and I’m not sure I want to move on past that sweet, ideal ending. If you’ve read the series, please let me know what you think!
Profile Image for Bonnie.
493 reviews39 followers
February 26, 2022
A princess named Sylvie lives in a book that hasn't been read in many years. She has become very bored with her same old boring plot. Suddenly, though, there is a new reader, and Sylvie makes the mistake of looking up at her. Then she makes the mistake of entering her dream, when she falls asleep with the book open. Sylvie finds excitement and a new plotless existence in the reader's dream night after night, but she is risking her book, and all the characters in it, by making the journey. When disaster strikes the book, Sylvie has the idea of taking the whole story into the reader's dreams to live, but what will happen when the reader grows up and begins to forget about the book?

This one was like The Eyre Affair series for children. I thought it could be no fail, but the plot got a little convoluted when it turned into dream territory.
Profile Image for Emily Barnett.
Author 12 books35 followers
September 9, 2018
I think there were some really good ideas and parts in this book. However, for a book being written about a book, there wasn't a whole lot of description and meat to it. The plot seemed to move super quick and though the ideas were very creative, I felt like they were too unbelievable. I enjoy thinking outside of the box, or book, or brain. But mind-hopping was a little too far of a stretch when the content was not very deep in itself. I just felt like the main character was running from book to person to person without really developing her character very much. And I really didn't care what happened to her kingdom because the characters were not very interesting or kind (besides the tutor was not even part of the kingdom).

So, an interesting idea, I just think it fell flat in delivering a world I wanted to believe in.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1 review
April 23, 2012
Quite possibly one of my favorite books ever. Granted, I read it as a kid and so it has some sentimental value, so my opinion is biased, but I've reread it a million times and still enjoy it.

The idea that the characters in a book are but mere actors in a play, who still live after the book is closed is reminiscent of Toy Story, and holds just as much imagination. Plus, the main character is independent thinking and adventurous, which I love to see in heroines.

A great read overall.
Profile Image for Katie.
183 reviews
June 19, 2013
A book about fictional characters living in a book, and jumping into their Reader's minds, this is a very unique book. I did not enjoy this book. I felt the writing was hard to follow, and the characters seemed to be for one thing in one sentence, but then we learn they actually don't feel that way in the next. I also didn't have a clear description of how the characters jumped into the Reader's minds. Although this was a clever idea, I didn't think the story was pieced together very well.
Profile Image for Kelsey.
98 reviews13 followers
May 12, 2015
-"The wilderness is littered with forgotten stories that will never be retold."-

Timeless, enchanting, and beautifully original. Do you ever wonder what happens to your favorite characters after you stop reading their story? Does the story live on after it is forgotten or does it fade away without a reader to bring it to life? Step into The Great Good Thing and discover the tale of a beloved cast of characters fight for survival against the tides of memory.
213 reviews7 followers
April 30, 2016
This little book is about the characters who are actually within the book. Its a cute little story of the perspective of the characters having to wait until the book is opened before they act out the story, in exactly the same way each time. Depending on what page the reader is on, that is where the story begins again when the book is opened. Its a cute little story with a happy ending.
3 reviews2 followers
January 10, 2013
The book was really interesting but it was a bit complicated to understand in some parts that is way this book was not my favorite. I recommend this book for people who like mystery and fantasy. This book was not my favorite but maybe other people might enjoy it.
Profile Image for Blythe.
193 reviews
April 22, 2014
I found this book at a used book sale for fifty cents, and it looked like an interesting new read. Last night I read it and it was the cutest story! I think this'll go on my favorites shelf. (Also, the one I got had a much better cover illustration).
Displaying 1 - 30 of 338 reviews

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