Tuesday, October 07, 2008
The 39 Clues Series: THE MAZE OF BONES
(Bill at LITERATE LIVES and I are doing SYNCHRONIZED POSTS--reviewing the 39 CLUES-so check out his review too!)
This week is our Scholastic Book Fair. The fair is filled with great books and I'll be sharing some of the ones I discover this week. One of the big new titles by Scholastic is THE MAZE OF BONES. This is the first in THE 39 Clues series which is an interesting series.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the book, it is not only a book. Scholastic seems to be trying something new. Readers can read the books, visit the website to play games and win real prizes, and collect trading cards with even more clues. This book is the first in a series of 10, each by a different well-known author. Each will continue with the story and a new book will be released every 3-5 months until the last one is released in 2010. Rick Riordan is the primary author--from what I've read, he authored the first book and then created the basics for the rest of the plot. I think the fact that there are great authors like Riordan involved, gives this series a great deal of credit in terms of quality.
I have admitted before and I'll admit again that I never read the Harry Potter series. I tried the first one several times and just never got into it. I know I am missing something good and I missed being part of all of the "stuff" around the books. I hated not being part of the "club" of people who had read Harry Potter. So, when I started to hear about The 39 Clues--which has a HUGE marketing agenda--I decided I wanted to at least be part of the conversations. I decided that, as a school librarian, this was a book I needed to read quickly and know about. So, I read it this week and I must say, I really liked it. I have no idea what the children's book reviewers are saying about it. But, I read it thinking through how it might be perceived by children. I don't know if it will meet the expectations that Scholastic has for it, but I definitely think it is worth buying for school libraries and upper elementary classrooms.
The story is set up early in the first book. Grace Cahill, grandmother to Dan and Amy Cahill dies and leaves a will. Relatives have a choice: Take one million dollars or receive the first clue in a mystery that could be important to the world. The race begins between Dan and Amy Cahill and the other relatives who decide to take the clue.
This is a fun mystery and it is being compared to lots of books. For me, it was part Series of Unfortunate Events (2 orphans always on the run from relatives they can't trust), Spy Kids (cool spy tools and lots of sibling fun), and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, my favorite book from childhood. Amy and Dan Cahill reminded me a bit of Claudia and Jamie. Claudia--the smart, organized "big sister" and Jamie, the clever, "little brother" who has his own unique talents. Many people are also saying it is a kids' version of THE DAVINCI CODE minus the religion. I can see that comparison too.
Here is what I liked:
It has a great plot--easy to stick with
The characters are likable and believable
It is a true mystery--there are codes, tombstones, good guys and bad guys
There are lots of connections to history and lots of new facts about historical figures
There are codes and fun things to figure out throughout--if you read the book, you'll notice little things that don't seem right and you'll realize they probably serve as some clue that you'll learn about later.
The cards are quite fun--more codes and some "fictional primary source documents". For example, my stack of cards included a report card and a guest list with cabin numbers from the Titanic.
This book is made of all things kids love. I can see it as a huge hook for boys and girls alike. I am already looking forward to the next book, due out in December.
There is a lot of talk about what has happened to children's book publishing--that this series was planned by marketers rather than by authors. I am not sure how I feel about that. And I am not sure if it matters if the product works. I see what Scholastic is trying to do--hit kids where they are. Tie in trading cards, websites, games, and more with a book. Clearly, the books are key and Scholastic is getting great authors to write the series. I think that speaks volumes. I think the test will be whether kids like it or not. I am ready with ears open to hear what students at my school say about the book. My hunch is that it is going to be a big deal. I can see it hooking lots of readers. And chances are, if they fall in love with this series, they will read others by Riordan and others.
(It looks like Steven Spielberg is already working on the movie.)
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