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Prison Boy

Interest Age: 12+
Grade: 8+
Reading Level: Common Core Correlations
CCSS.ELA-Literacy Strand-Reading literature: RL.11-12.1,2,3,4,5,6,10

Reading Level: Lexile HL530L
Hardcover : 9781554517312, 232 pages, March 2015 , 8.0" x 5.5"
Paperback : 9781554517305, 232 pages, March 2015 , 8.0" x 5.5"
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554517329, 232 pages, March 2015
Rights sold: English


A heart-wrenching tale of selfless love and the powerful desire to survive. 

In an unnamed country, when little Kai is brought to the orphanage run by Bell, a fearsome Englishwoman whose dedication to her charges is unflinching, an older child, Pax, immediately takes him under his wing. It soon becomes apparent that Kai is a brilliant child, and given the right circumstances, could go on to achieve great things. 

Penniless and living amidst political strife and constant uncertainty, the children are nonetheless taken care of  and protected—until Bell dies and they are left on their own. Pax is determined to keep Kai safe, and to make sure he gets the education he deserves. But life on the streets is tough—and dangerous. 

In a desperate attempt to make enough money to keep Kai in school, Pax agrees to work for a shady character known only as Mister. Mister sends Pax on a “special” mission—carry a very heavy box to a pre-arranged location, and wait. At the very last minute, Pax realizes that the box contains a bomb, which explodes, killing and maiming hundreds of people.

Pax and Kai escape the deadly explosion, only to be arrested soon after and charged with terrorism. What follows is a descent into the hellish prison where brutal guards stop at nothing to make Pax talk. 

This haunting novel brings home the tragic situation in which children in over 40 countries are tortured with impunity. But it also speaks to the strength of love in the most dire situations.                                                                                                  


  • Best Bets List, Top Ten, Ontario Library Association 2016
  • Nominated, Red Maple Award nomination, Ontario Library Association 2016
  • Winner, Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children’s Literature, Atlantic Book Awards 2016
  • Short-listed, Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Award nomination 2016
  • Joint winner, Skipping Stones Honor Book 2016
  • Joint winner, USBBY Outstanding International Books List 2016
  • Joint winner, Best Books for Kids & Teens, Canadian Children's Book Centre 2016


“Another gut-wrenching tale from McKay.”

- Kirkus Reviews, 02/15

“A powerful, challenging, and courageous book.”

- Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

“A strong choice for those seeking something meaty for middle schoolers . . . A great conversation starter.”

- School Library Journal, 04/15

“McKay always does a wonderful job of writing about human rights and injustice where children are involved.”

- Mabel’s Fables Raves, 05/15/15

“With her starkly vivid prose, gripping scenes, and affecting characters, McKay is a master storyteller.”

- National Reading Campaign, 05/29/15