If you are looking for a nice (in all the good meanings of that word) fantasy adventure type book to give to an 8 or 9 year old kid, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, by Laurel Snyder (2008, but just reprinted as a Yearling Paperback) is one I'd recommend. It is a lovely quest fantasy for the beginners, with little Darkness but lots of fun.
Lucy, a milkmaid, and Wynston, a prince, are best friends. But suddenly one day Wynston's life as a prince interferes with their friendship, and Lucy takes off in a huff (accompanied by a young cow named Rosebud--one of those things that just sometimes happens). She's going to climb the Scratchy Mountains, and find her mother. No-one has actually come out and said she's dead, after all.
But what she finds up in the mountains isn't all fun and games...her path leads to the village of Torrent, a strange dystopia whose strict rules may mean the end of the small wild animal Lucy befriended on her journey. So even though Lucy is as tough a young heroine as they come, it's a good thing Wynston has taken off after her. Two friends working together can do things that one person can't...and adventures are much more friendly with two!
Snyder tells her deceptively simple story with verve and zest. Sprinkled with amusing tidbits, the action swings along swingingly. It is a book that a moderately confident reader could read to themselves, and it also is a great book to read out loud, to boys or girls (tip on reading out loud to your boys-- if you make sure you are holding the book you want to read face down as you approach them, they might not notice covers that look like girl books).
But I think it is more than just a good story, well-told. In a non-preachy way, and almost as an aside, it has messages of the sort I, for one, want my children to internalize. Things like "don't judge people by their status in society," "Question idiotic laws and governments that think themselves perfect," "Have the courage to go off and look for things that are important to you." Things that I want my kids to do (as long as they don't take the cow up the mountain with them).
(my copy provided by the author)