The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Tiffany Aching, age 9, is a responsible and sensible girl. She makes cheese and watches after her sticky little brother. Generation after generation of Achings have been sheep herders.
But Tiffany wants to be something more. She wants to be a witch.
When creatures from Fairyland start invading her farm, she does what anyone would do...arms herself with a frying pan.
Luckily she has a better weapon. The Nac Mac Feegle, also known as the Wee Free Men, are on her side. They're tiny blue men with lots of tattoos. They love to fight and drink strong drink. Their battle cries are hilarious. We laughed out loud when they said, "They can tak' oour lives, but they cannae tak' oour troousers!" They're also always chanting, ""Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willnae be fooled again!" ***
Tiffany has mixed feelings about taking care of her brother all the time, but when he is whisked away by the evil Queen of Fairyland, she knows she doesn't have a choice but to save him...and of course, the Wee Free Men are more than anxious to help.
Once they are in Fairyland, the story gets a bit more complicated, with different levels of dreaming and reality.
This story is not only entertaining, but it has a multitude of life lessons. I read it after a friend said that it was a great analogy for becoming a leader. Because of this, I saw many great insights I may have missed. After a series of dreams, Tiffany realizes, "The secret is not to dream. The secret is to wake up. Waking up is harder."
Tiffany is a great character. She wonders about her lack of emotions. She knows she has a seed of greatness inside of her, so she seeks a mentor to help her become what she wants to be. After all, everyone starts small, "like oak trees". She believes in herself and does what she has to do.
In terms of age-appropriateness, I recommend this book for tweens and teens. Like I said, the Nac Mac Feegle love their strong drink. Also, Granny Aching, Tiffany's grandma, smoked cigars. The cigar packaging plays a large part in the story and is once said to look like a naked woman's sillouette if you hold the package just so.
I read it aloud to my kids, skipping the things aforementioned. Use your judgment.
***Funny story. One evening in AZ, the kids, in desperate need of a bath, were marching through the house chanting, "No baths, no showers, no soap. We won't be fooled again!"