Sunday, October 12, 2008

Book Reviews: Middle Grade Marathon Part 2: For the Boys

It’s often lamented that it’s hard to get boys interested in reading. Here are three books that are squarely aimed at middle school boys which I hope will find success.

Alec Flint Super Sleuth: The Nina, The Pinta and the Vanishing Treasure by Jill Santopolo
Orchard Books (Hachette) Hardcover 192 pages

Alec Flint is a 4th grade super sleuth in training who hopes he doesn’t have to resort to doing a “sneaker stakeout” for lack of better cases. Fortunately, a big case does come along – the Columbus exhibit is missing from the museum – and Alec enlists classmate Gina to be his sleuthing partner.

So begins the case of The Nina, The Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure (or as I like to call it, “The case of the incredibly inept law enforcement officers and even dumber criminals”). Despite the unrealistically bumbling nature of the cops and robbers, early elementary age kids will enjoy solving the riddles and encoded notes that Alec and Gina write to each other and the fact that kids are the heroes here. They’ll also learn a lot about Christopher Columbus as a pure side effect to this clever mystery story. GSZMPH QROO! (Translation: Thanks Jill!)

Ignatius MacFarland: Freqenaut by Paul Feig
Little, Brown Young Readers 368 pages

Iggy MacFarland is tired of being teased and imagines that escaping to outer space would solve all his problems. So he builds a rocket that “launches” him to another frequency, one which is run by former English teacher turned dictator Mr. Arthur. Can he save this world and return to his own (which no longer looks too bad)?

This novel started out with a lot of promise. Iggy is written with such an appealing voice and the beginning chapters had me in stitches laughing. The way he describes Mr. Arthur’s unhappiness on earth for example is priceless: “But nobody ever published his books or bought any of his plays…because, well, I guess the stuff he did wasn’t very good. I even heard that he made the drama club put on a musical he wrote that was so bad everybody left at intermission. But since he was such a nice guy, everybody told him the play was good and excused their having to leave by saying the cookies at intermission gave them food poisoning, which didn’t make him feel any better since he was also the person who baked the cookies.”

But once Iggy arrives in the new frequency, things started to sag for me. I did like the exploration of what makes a normal guy become a dictator and Iggy’s continuing unintentionally snarky observations. But the inhabitants of the new frequency were standard issue yawn inducing weird aliens and an extremely annoying teen girl Karen who also “exploded” into the frequency and turns mega radical.

I won’t give away the end, but it is left wide open for a series a la “Sliders” (the TV show). And since most of my quibbles had to do with the world creation (which may well be interesting for kids but doesn’t seem to me to have a lot of crossover appeal), I would definitely check out a sequel to see if the author improves in this regard.

RuneWarriors by James Jennewein and Tom S. Parker
Laura Geringer Books (HarperCollins) Hardcover 320 pages

On the eve of the Norse Festival of Greatness, Dane the Defiant earns his nickname by standing up to evil tyrant Thidrek. But when Thidrak kidnaps Dane’s beloved and goes after Thor’s hammer, Dane’s going to need wind, wisdom and thunder if he wants to ever be admitted in Valhalla and become a renowned RuneWarrior.

The authors spend the entire first third of the novel introducing us to Dane, his group of Norse boys (who have names like Jarl the Fair, Drott the Dim, Fulnir the Stinking) and Astrid, a knife wielding, headstrong beauty. And then around page 100 the “inciting incident” finally occurs and I nearly threw the book across the room: the plot is set into motion due to an incredibly stupid action, something which I do not forgive easily. I would have stopped reading immediately if the authors had not so effectively invested me in the characters. Good thing I kept reading as the book redeems itself with an enthralling quest and by making Norse mythology really come alive.

I very much enjoyed the writing style and humorous tone of the book, and didn't even mind the frequent use of anachronism. Jarl is teased for bringing his “prized collection of grooming combs and brushes” to use on his long “flaxen locks” during the sea journey. Ulf the Whale is often underestimated because “many made the mistake of believing if you were fat, you were oafishly stupid as well. As if the two things just naturally went together, like peas and carrots or hugs and kisses or weasels and weasel bites.”

And thus ends this installment of middle grade marathon. I may do it again soon, as I still have quite a pile of MG books to be reviewed...


Traci said...

I've got Rune Warriors on my TBR list - I really need to get to it.

Ladytink_534 said...

If these don't get boys reading, nothing will!

Angela said...

Check out "Mudville" by Kurtis Scaletta comes out at the end of February. It's for ages 9-12.

"Welcome to Moundville, where it’s been raining for longer than Roy McGuire has been alive. Most people say the town is cursed—right in the middle of their big baseball game against rival town Sinister Bend, black clouds crept across the sky and it started to rain. That was 22 years ago . . . and it’s still pouring.

Baseball camp is over, and Roy knows he’s in for a dreary, soggy summer. But when he returns home, he finds a foster kid named Sturgis sprawled out on his couch. As if this isn’t weird enough, just a few days after Sturgis’s arrival, the sun comes out. No one can explain why the rain has finally stopped, but as far as Roy’s concerned, it’s time to play some baseball. It’s time to get a Moundville team together and finish what was started 22 years ago. It’s time for a rematch."

This sounds interesting to me, as a girl that loves books about baseball, but doesn't care too much for actually watching a real game. ;) I can see this being a big hit with boys.

Alea said...

I had never heard of books like these being referred to as Middle Grade or MG until recently. I'm not really sure what I myself ever called them either. Learn something new everyday!

Lenore Appelhans said...

traci - I liked it a whole lot more than I thought I would. Hope you like it too.

ladytink - don't know any boys that age, so I guess I'll never know!

speedy - thanks for the tip

alea - yeah, I learned this fab terminology at a writer's conference :)

Lisa said...

I've got Rune Warriors sitting on my shelf. I'm not sure I'm thrilled to find it's geared to teenage boys!

Lenore Appelhans said...

lisa - let's put it this way: it's fun for the whole family ;)