Imagine this: A 14-year-old boy named Leven Thumps has had a perfectly dreadful life up to now. Then everything changes.
First, Leven finds he has a special gift.
Then he learns about a secret gateway bridging two worlds — the real world and Foo, a place created at the beginning of time, making it possible for mankind to dream, hope, imagine and aspire.
And then he discovers it is up to him — with the help of a few friends — to not only save Foo but also the whole world as he knows it.
Imagine this: One day a young boy is out walking in the woods, when he discovers the secret of Foo. He thinks about it and thinks about it until he is all grown up, and then he decides he needs to tell the world about it. So he sits down and writes about another boy named Leven Thumps and his quest to save Foo.
Now the author has been traveling all around the country talking to kids about Foo. And his book, which came out on April FOO’s day, is already in its fifth printing and has been picked up by national bookstore chains. And the author even got to go to New York City to the biggest Book Expo in the country.
Which story is true and which is fantasy?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell — even for those most closely associated with “Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo” (Shadow Mountain, 348 pages, $17.95).
“It’s been wonderful. It’s been exciting,” said author Obert Skye. “The three secrets of Foo that Leven learns: Have courage — don’t let fear stop you. Think big — dare to dream the impossible. Be great — don’t settle for being just average. They all apply to me as well.”
So, how did this all come about?
For starters, Obert Skye is not his real name. The author blurb on the book jacket notes that he “was born a number of years ago in a town just about the size of the one you are living in. Obert read his first book at age 2. He wrote his first story at age 4. He was nearly trampled by a herd of water buffalo at age 6.”
He has purposely kept his background vague and mysterious, not only because it fits in with the whole idea of Foo but also because he wants children to imagine what his life is like — to create in their minds a story and a life for him that is probably more exciting than his own really is.
“When I was a kid, I remember reading the books of Roald Dahl and ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ” Skye said by phone from the “dry and warm” state where he lives. “They were so fun to read because of the original concepts. And I remember making up things in my mind about authors who could write such enjoyable things. I was fascinated by them, the way I imagined them to be.”
So, when Skye goes to schools to talk to children (which he has done with frequency, visiting with about 20,000 youngsters in the past two months), he gives them an “imagination journal” and encourages them to write their own hopes and dreams. “Hopes and dreams are not only a fun part of life. They are essential. And I bet that every kid has some hope or dream buried deep inside him — so deep he may not have even told his best friend. And I want him to know that, like Leven, he has to protect those dreams and fight to make them come true.”
Thirtysomething Skye remembers when he was a boy. “I don’t know of a time when I didn’t use my imagination.” Because it made life so much richer and more interesting, it’s a hope he has for kids today. The message of hope and courage contained in “Leven Thumps” is more important than it’s ever been, he said.
Skye is also holding a national writing contest with an “unFOOgettable prize.” One child will have his or her most original idea written into a future volume of the series. (For more information, visit www.leventhumps.com.)
The author really did discover the secret of Foo while in the woods one day, he said. “I had lost my ball, and while I was looking for it, I kept thinking there must be a place where everyone’s dreams and imaginations must go. I really believe in Foo.”
Another thing Skye wants children to know is that they don’t have to do it all alone. Leven has some special friends who help him out:
— There’s Clover Ernest, a “sycophant” from Foo who is a foot tall and furry and wears a shimmering robe that renders him completely invisible if the hood is up.
— There’s Winter Frore, a “nit” with the ability to freeze things, who must also find herself before she can help Leven (who, it turns out, is really an “offing”).
— And there’s Geth, a “lithen” whose soul was trapped in a fantrum seed by the evil Sabine, and who must try to reclaim his place as the head of Foo’s Council of Wonder.
“Everyone needs a Clover to tell them ‘there’s something good about you — there’s something you can do that no one else can,’ ” said Skye. Just as everyone needs to remember that “from the smallest things, great things can happen, as with Geth.”
Skye has five books planned in the Leven Thumps series, and has them already fairly well sketched out. But Leven will not be a year older in each one (a la Harry Potter). “Foo time is different, and age is more a matter of the things you endure than the time it takes.”
“Leven Thumps” is a best seller regionally and has been well- received by national critics. Publishers Weekly called it “excellent,” with “palpable excitement and suspense. Kids and adults alike will enjoy this charming tale.” Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and called attention to its “splendidly unpredictable plot twists.”
Already, it has exceeded Skye’s dreams. “It’s been phenomenal,” said Skye.
Just imagine that.
Copyright Deseret News Publishing Company Jun 17, 2005