Great Good Thing (Sylvie Cycle Series)

Great Good Thing (Sylvie Cycle Series)


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Thursday, November 14


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...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780689853289
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 01/28/2001
Series: Sylvie Cycle Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 730,676
Product dimensions: 7.62(w) x 5.00(h) x 0.65(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Roderick Townley's first book about Sylvie, The Great Good Thing, was a Top-Ten Book Sense Pick, praised by Kirkus Reviews as "utterly winning...a book beloved from the first page." Its sequel, Into the Labyrinth, was hailed by the New York Times as "a hopping fine read." The present volume completes the Sylvie cycle.

Mr. Townley has also published the novel Sky, described by VOYA as "one hell of a book," as well as volumes of poetry, nonfiction, and literary criticism. He has two children, Jesse and Grace, and is married to author Wyatt Townley.

Read an Excerpt

Part One: Sylvie Looks Up; Chapter One

Sylvie had an amazing life, but she didn't get to live it very often. What good were potions and disguises if no one came along to scare you or save you or kiss you behind the waterfall? Week after week nothing changed. Years went by. The sparkles on Sylvie's dress began to fade, and a fine dust coated the leaves, turning the green woods gray.

Once in a while, it looked as though something might happen. The ground trembled slightly, then nothing more. People got used to these disturbances. King Walther scarcely noticed. He sat about playing cards with the goatherd. Even the wolves stopped lurking and just lay in the heat, panting like house dogs. It got so that one day Sylvie sat down on a stone at the edge of the lake and wept.

"Come on," she whispered fiercely. "Come on! Something happen!"

At that moment, a fan of light began opening in a corner of the sky, sending flashes of color across the water. Sylvie wiped her eyes as the woods brightened. A breeze flew through the treetops, knocking against branches as it went.

"Rawwwwk! Reader! Reader!" cried an orange bird, bursting into the air.

"Booook open!" groaned a bullfrog. "Ooopen! Boook open!"

Sylvie sprang to her feet, excitement and fear catching in her throat. How far had she wandered? A distant trumpet sounded, and the forest echoed with clumping hooves, flapping wings, shouting knights, fluttering dowagers, all racing to get to their places.

Sylvie had the farthest to go — all the way to page 3 — but she knew the shortcuts between descriptions and arrived, hot-cheeked, just as a shadow moved over the land and the face of an enormous child peered down on her.

She didn't care for the look on that face — it was a boy with a pouty lip — but she could spare him no more than a glance. Her dialogue began right away.

"Father," she said, "I cannot marry Prince Riggeloff."

Her father was breathing hard. He'd had to run in heavy robes from page 13. "Not marry Riggeloff?" cried the king. Sweat stood on his pasty brow. "For heaven's sake, child, he is handsome, rich..."

"Kind, brave," continued Princess Sylvie. "Yes, I am aware of his qualities."

"He has everything."

"So have I," the girl replied, dodging around an illustration.

"You don't have a husband."

"Nor want one. I don't want anything," she said, her green eyes flashing, "except — "

But Sylvie, who had arrived at the top of page 4, never got to say what it was she wanted. A gob of strawberry jam hurtled from the sky and landed with a splot, just two words in front of her, spattering her blue shoes. She looked up. The boy was biting into a peanut butter sandwich. He wasn't even listening!

"Dumb story," he humphed and, without bothering to wipe away the jam, he slammed the book shut and tossed it....Well, Sylvie could only imagine that he tossed it, for she found herself and King Walther and all the courtiers spinning around, then bumping to a stop at a backward angle. They waited in darkness, but the boy did not reappear.

"Watch out!" came the high, scratchy voice of Pingree the Jester. "Get off of me, you lunk!"

"Sorry," sounded the basso voice of the king's chief councillor.

"If only you had as much wit as you have width!"

The backup lights buzzed and flickered and came on. The sky, a storybook blue, appeared through the castle window, and the ladies-in-waiting picked themselves off the floor and righted their chairs.

The king was rubbing his hip. "Are you all right, child?"

"I suppose so," said Sylvie.

"One of these days we'll get a real Reader."

She gave him a doubtful look.

"We used to have them, lots of them," he said.

"Father, we never had lots of Readers."

"Well, we had good ones. They paid attention."

Sylvie mumbled something.

"What was that, dear?"


"Don't say that. This is a book. We have to say everything."

"I said, maybe they found something better to do than read our silly story."

Queen Emmeline had been gazing critically in a mirror, poking at her ruined hairdo. "Sylvie," she said in her warning voice.

"Never mind," said the king. "She knows it isn't true. The sun shines. Readers read."

Sylvie had heard all that before. It didn't make her feel any better.

"We have a big responsibility," the king went on.

"I know."

"If it weren't for us — "

"I know!" The princess smoothed the folds of her skirt and started toward the edge of the page. "I think I'll take a nap, if nobody minds."

Queen Emmeline glided up to her husband and laid her hand on his arm as Sylvie disappeared in the direction of page 6.

She found a comfy spot on the left-hand margin beside the seventh paragraph and rested her head on "grandiloquent," the largest adjective in sight. As her head sank into the stuffing, the earlier thought returned: What if Readers really did have other lives, lives that had nothing to do with her world? The idea went against everything she'd been taught.

The sun shines. Readers read. She nestled down and yawned. Soon her breathing softened as she drifted into a dream about Chapter Four, in which she sets out on her quest to regain the stolen treasure. As always, the dream went pretty much the way the story was written. Following the thieves' trail, she rode her donkey into the forest. In a clearing she came across a great tortoise — ten feet across — which local peasant boys had somehow overturned and left to die. Dark birds stared down from the trees. Sylvie tried to help, but the tortoise was too heavy. She used a long pole as a lever and tied a length of rope to her donkey. With her pushing and the donkey tugging, the tortoise finally thumped over onto its feet. It looked at her several long seconds with its great reptilian eyes, then disappeared in the undergrowth.

Sylvie traveled on. In the afternoon heat, she heard a high clicking sound and the beating of wings. Ahead, in a thornbush, a large snowy owl struggled. The more desperately it beat its wings, the deeper the thorns pierced its body. Bright red lines worked their way down the white feathers. Then Sylvie realized (as she always realized at this point in the story) that the bird's eyes were white, too. It was blind!

"Shh," Sylvie said in a soft voice. "Hush, little one."

The owl grew calmer, and Sylvie was able to stroke its back. She held the quivering bird and gently pulled away the thorns. With a cry the owl exploded into the air, circled her once, and flew north.

At last, her petticoats hopelessly dusty, Sylvie arrived at the cliffs overlooking the Mere of Remind. The waters of the Mere were usually calm, but now something was churning up waves close to the shore. An enormous fish of some kind, she thought, trapped by the receding tide. She hurried down to the water.

"There, there, fish," she said, extending her hand over the thrashing waves. "If you will calm down, I will help you." She reached below the surface and felt the scaly back of a great sea creature.

She waded in, stroking the fish all the while. It blended so perfectly with the water, it seemed invisible. "Come," she said. She bumped into the dorsal fin and gently pulled on it, guiding the fish to a place where it could wriggle over a sandbar and escape.

"Now!" she cried. The creature heaved itself up, and Sylvie pushed with all her strength while sand flew everywhere. In that moment, catching the last sunlight, the fish's sand-covered body was briefly visible. "Why, you're as big as a drawing room!" Sylvie gasped. Then it slammed back in the water and was gone.

She watched the flashing waves grow brighter and brighter, till she had to shield her eyes. The distant cliffs were turning transparent. What was happening? Then came the sound of screaming birds, and a low grumbling.

"Booook open! Oooopen!"

Sylvie woke from her dream in a panic. The page was flooded with light. She started running, already late. A face was peering down into the royal chamber, where the king was chewing on the end of his mustache and looking around anxiously.

"Father-I-cannot-marry-Prince-Riggeloff!" Sylvie gasped as she raced out onto the page.

"Not marry Riggeloff?" King Walther beamed, relieved to see her back in place. Then he caught himself and harrumphed. "For heaven's sake, child, he is handsome, rich..."

Sylvie had to lean against the wall to catch her breath. Her hand rested on a suit of armor. "Kind, brave, yes, I..." The armor started to scrape along the wall. "Yes, I..." — she made a grab for it and missed — "know!" she cried as the armor, with a stupendous crash, landed on the stone floor. "No! No!"

One of the ladies-in-waiting fainted dead away.

Somewhere someone started giggling.

"He has — he has," started the king. He cast a worried glance at the large woman lying on the floor.

The giggling grew louder.

"Everything, yes I know," Sylvie said. "So do I."

"And so do I!" her father exclaimed.

"Of course you do!" cried Sylvie. "You're the king!"

"Where am I?" The lady-in-waiting, a round woman in a bulging ball gown, was struggling onto her elbow.

Pingree the Jester hid his face in his pointed hat.

"And you're the princess!" shouted the king to Sylvie. He put his hand to his brow. "What am I saying?"

The laughter grew louder. Sylvie glanced up, just for a second, and saw a huge face in the sky. A girl, she realized, one she hadn't seen before.

"Ah-ha-ha-ha!" the girl boomed out, gripping the sides of the book till the castle shook.


The laughter died away. The new Reader had turned the page and found 4 and 5 stuck together. Sylvie forgot the number one rule of all storybook characters: Never look at the Reader. It was a rule she had broken before, but this time she just stared up at the Reader, a plain-looking girl a bit younger than herself, with short brown curls and a mouth too wide for her face. She was prying the pages apart.

"That Ricky!" the girl cried. Then she closed the book and left the courtiers in darkness.

"Oh!" King Walther sighed in despair.

"Disaster!" the jester groaned, flicking dust from his jingling cap.

"She may come back," said the queen.

Sylvie and her father helped pull the lady-in-waiting to her feet as the backup lights sputtered and blinked on. No one spoke, or even looked at each other. Two disappointments in one day, after years of sitting on an undusted shelf. It was too much!

Copyright © 2001 by Roderick Townley

Table of Contents

Part One * Sylvie Looks Up

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three

Part Two * The Land to the East

Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six

Part Three * Into the Mountains

Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine

Part Four * The Crossing

Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen

Part Five * Revision

Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide to

The Great Good Thing
By Roderick Townley

About the Book

Twelve-year-old Princess Sylvie lives in a storybook that hasn’t been read in years. She’s tired of the same old tale and longs for adventure beyond the boundaries of the book. So when a young girl named Claire begins reading The Great Good Thing, Sylvie makes her move. First, she disobeys the number one rule of storybook characters: Never Look at the Reader. Soon after that, she leaves the confines of the page to explore Claire’s dreams. But when the book is destroyed by fire, Sylvie, her family, and all the characters in the kingdom must take up permanent residence in Claire’s subconscious. There, adventure is assured; but it’s what Sylvie accomplishes on the outside that brings the greatest good, for herself and countless others. Publisher’s Weekly called Townley’s novel “clever and deftly written… as much a romantic paean to reading and writing as it is a good story.” Indeed, Townley’s fantastic journey renders the imagination real.

Discussion Topics

Please use examples from the text to support your answers.

1. As a storybook character Sylvie stays the same age despite the passage of time. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of staying the same age forever? If you could choose one age at which to remain the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

2. Claire’s brother Ricky mistreats her copy of The Great Good Thing. In what ways does he do this? Why does he handle the book disrespectfully? What happens to the characters of The Great Good Thing as a result?

3. Claire’s grandmother adored The Great Good Thing for a most personal reason. She passed it down to Claire, who in turn shared her love for the book with her daughter Lily. What are your favorite books? What books would you pass down to your children and grandchildren? What feelings or memories do you associate with the stories?

4. The way we treat others often comes back to haunt or help us. Think about three magical beasts: the blind owl (air), the tortoise (earth), and the invisible fish (water). What is Sylvie’s relationship to them, and what is their function in the story?

5. When King Walther confronts Sylvie about going outside the boundaries of the book, he says, “Without you… well our story wouldn’t make sense.” What does he mean by this? How would your favorite book be different without the main character? In what ways would the story change? What role do you play in your family’s story? How would your family members’ lives be different without you?

6. Fire forces the character in The Great Good Thing to inhabit a new setting. How do the characters change as a result of the move? What challenges do they face? Have you ever had to adjust to an unfamiliar setting? What helped you to feel more comfortable?

7. As she learns more about Claire’s mind Sylvie notices that distant memories are in danger of being forgotten forever. How does Sylvie help restore Claire’s memories? Are there certain triggers-like sights or smells-that bring up old memories for you? How do you retrieve memories? What helps you remember a poem or a math formula, for example?

8. Near the end of Chapter 11, Fangl tells Sylvie, “You can’t solve a problem from inside it.” He adds, “You’re the only one who can save the kingdom, because you’re the only one who can leave it.” What does he mean by this? Have you ever had problems or difficulties that you had to get “outside of” in order to solve?

9. Many young people have written the author to say that reading this book changed the way they look at things. Has the book changed the way you think of reading? If so, how?

Activities and Research

1. Dream symbolism appears throughout The Great Good Thing. In one dream Claire and Sylvie take flight after leaping from a stairway. In another Claire gives a speck “before a crowd of strangers…[in] her underwear.” What is the significance of these dreams? Keep a dream journal. Record your dreams each day for one week. Do you notice any themes? How do your dreams reflect what is happening in your waking life?

2. Queen Emmeline pressures Sylvie to marry Prince Riggeloff. “You’re twelve years old!” she says. “It’s time you think of marriage, not-adventure.” Why do you think Queen Emmeline wants her daughter to wed at such a young age? How have people’s beliefs about marriage changed over time and why?

3. Rewrite a well-known fairy tale, imagining what the characters do when the book is closed. Stage a public reading or class play to present your vision to others.

4. Claire brought her grandmother joy by reading to her. Share your love of books with younger students by being a Reading Buddy. Partner with another class to read to the children each week. Travel to their classroom or invite them to yours.

5. Interview the elders of your community (e.g., parents, grandparents, or neighbors) to find out what they loved as children. Are these books still available? Like the first version of The Great Good Thing, many may be out of print or hard to find. If so, write a letter to the publisher (ask a librarian for help locating this information).

6. Sylvie accomplishes a “great good thing” for future generations of readers when she helps Lily write a new version of The Great Good Thing. What “great good thing” could you do to enhance the quality of life in your family, school, or community? Work individually, in a small group, or as a class to accomplish your goal.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Great Good Thing 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
mentormom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this little gem. It has a great premise and I think there are some deep themes to think about and discuss. You remember Shakespeare's play within a play? This is about a book within a book. Sylvie is the main character. She's the princess and heroine of her story. She manages to outlive her book and in the end does a Great Good Thing. I'm glad I didn't miss out on this one. I'll definitely read it again.
missgin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This enchanting story is for any reader who has ever felt as though the characters in the book had a life of their own beyond the words on the page.
BoundTogetherForGood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a cute story, really meant for grades 4-6. The premise of the book is that story-book characters are alive and real in the imaginations of readers. Good story line but I felt as if the author tried to rush the story a bit and left out some necessary character and plot development early in the book. His characters obviously are able to travel from books and the imaginations of readers into the dreams of the readers although the author doesn't clearly explain this to the reader of the book. Again, for me, the story felt familiar. A more grown-up and engrossing telling of the same sort can be found in Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.
VictoriaParnell More than 1 year ago
I cried. I don't often.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the Great Good Thing by, Roderick Townley, we learn about the lives of characters in a story, who must face many obstacles. The main character's name is Sylvie, she plays a princess who loves adventure (that gets her in trouble a couple of times) Sylvie lives in a stry that is rearely read. However, the bok ends up finding a devoted reader, who reads the book every EVERY day. However, Sylvie and the other characters are forced to flee the story when a real fire occurs. They run past the book page edges into, the mind of the sleeping reader, Claire. The characters become thoughts inside of a human's head. Sylvie and her storybook characters end up being used as thoughts in dreams. It is run as if it was a t.v. production. Some of the characters have a tough time adjusting to the unplanned life, and not have a book written out for them to follow. As Claire grows older, she rarely dreams about the storybook characters. This causes them all to move from the mind to another place in Claire. They rebuild a castle and try to recreate their story. However things go wrong, an evil jester takes over the re-created castle and Claire is growing old and sickly. Plus, who nows what happens to thoughts once the mind thier living in dies? To find ut read on. Some things I liked about this book are its clever dialouge. It's a not right out there in your face kind-of funny but more of a reading between the lines funny. For exaple a charcter says nt for the castle to loose it's shape. He means for it nt to be forgotten or messed up. However, we learn that the castle is lso on a slant so it is the wrong shape. I also like the book in a book concept, it was witty, and enjoyable. A couple things i didn't like was that at times it could be a little confusing. Whether which person was saying what. Also, I didnt really get to know tha character's as mich as i would've liked to. The authors writing sytle is written in the point of veiw of third person. His sentences tend to be on the shorter side and are easy to comprehend. The words are also roughly easy to undersatnd. I also think that the dialogue was true to the character, all of them are very proper because they are from the storybook kingdom. I would reccomend this book to kids from ages 10-13, and mostly to girls. I reccomend this to girls more because it is a fairtale and it has to do with princesses and kingdoms. I, being a 12 year old girl, loved this book. If you enjoyd it you will also enjoy Once Apon a Curse, it is similar and witty. I REALLY liked this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
venusekt More than 1 year ago
As a lover books of all kinds, I very much enjoyed this story. I bought this copy for a niece for christmas, but read it myself and to a sixth grade class I was student teaching for about 6 years ago. The students really liked it. The ending is very thought provoking. I didn't know that this was only one in a series and I'm excited to read the others. A great read for those who have read and loved Alice in Wonderland and the Inkheart Trilogy.
Bree10 More than 1 year ago
This is a fairy tales you have probably never read before. It's about a story book princess who wants more than being in her story. Claire, the owner of the book has been falling asleep near the boundaries of the book, and Sylvie has been going into her dreams. This was the first ever book I had actually loved, and helped me read more. A great book for all ages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a story within a story. Princess Sylvie is trapped in a book, reliving the same story for 80 years or so, each time a Reader opens the book. When the book is set on fire and burns to a crisp, the princess and many of the other characters flee, crossing over into a Reader's mind, where they become part of her subconscious. Interesting concept, clunky and sometimes boring execution. Some cute moments. I think a different writer could have gone far with this idea.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about a girl who lives in a kingdom in a story book. In this land there are many rules like don't look at the reader and etc.... Silvia is always doing things she's not supposed to. Later on she becomes a friend to one of her readers and has adventures. I liked this book because it was exciting and fun.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story surpassed any previous story I had ever read. In a mere four hours I had finished the book, and stared in awe as I closed the pages of this masterpiece. I was massively impressed by the intricate details and outstanding plot. Roderick Townley is indeed a magnificent author and his works will stay within the hearts of reviewers for generations to come. I am overcome with excitement to read Townley's sequel, 'Into the Labyrinth.' I encourage all aspiring authors to read and re-read 'The Great Good Thing'; a fairy-tale-like plot that gives one a perspective anew on life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first read this, it took me only a few hours to get through the 216 pages of the book. It has become a new favorite of mine, one I have constantly read over and over. This story is near impossible to summerize, but basically, it's about Princess Sylvie, the main character in a dusty old storybook entitled, 'The Great Good Thing'. She loves her story, and her world, but she longs for new adventures. And when she wanders into a little girl's dream, she finds herself in one of the most interesting stories of all, in which her world is altered many times, and only with the help of her story's first Reader-the little girl with the dark blue eyes- and some courage can she save her story from being lost forever. A literary joy, I've never read such a clever and inventive book. I should also mention this- keep your eyes on paragraph numbers, page numbers, and the placement of characters for the first few chapters. You'll notice something...interesting if you do. You should read this book because it is a whole new experiance and also because, just like life, you never know what this book will throw at you next.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have ever read! It looks as if it is a fairy tale (which I don't like) but it really isn't. I think it is a truley inexplainibal yet wonderful book. The first few chapters are confusing, but you soon get a hang of the story! This is one of the rare books I would want to rate more than 5 stars! It is a wonderful story for adaults and children 10 and up alike.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excelent book for children and grown-ups alike! Parents, prepare to enjoy story time even more. The Great Good Thing sweeps you into the very heart of the imaginative spirit and gives you the ride of your life. It is such a wonderful idea: the life of a story book character! The book is a breath of fresh air and a new and facinating idea. This is an amazing book that you will want to read again and again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was stuck in the book when I read it. It made me laugh, cry, and experience all my emotions. Bravo!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
all i can say is What a book!!!! this books deserves a million stars if i had it my way. it is very imaginative.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a seventeen year old fan of children's literature, and let me tell you, this book is good. I've never read anything quite like it. The author plays with the reader's imagination in ways unlike anything I've ever encountered.The plot of the story revolves around Princess Sylvie, the main character of a storybook, and what she does when no one is reading the book. The author does clever things, like describing how Sylvie ran to the top of page four, right on the top of page four. This book is a touching story for children to read, but also more than worth it for adults. I would recommend it to anyone who ever wanted to become a fairytale character themself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story reveals the mystery of imagination and the sources that sustain it throughout the generations. If you were ever read to as a child, and can still recapture the magic of a grownup's voice pouring forth a well-read tale, this book will resonate with you; but, if you yourself make up a fairy tale for a child, then wonder what part of yourself it came from, The Great Good Thing will bridge you back to a long-lost place of play so many deny themselves. What a wonderful book. Thank you, Roderick Townley!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've never read anything quite like this book, and had a wonderful time doing it. The author plays with the reader much as he plays with his characters. Funny, touching, exciting, and sentimental all at once. Highly recommended.