Tag Archives: books

“Spy Camp” Should Bunk Up with Disney Channel

1 Oct

Spy Camp

Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee Spy Camp by Stuart Gibbs has all the makings of a great Disney Channel sitcom: lots of too-clever kids, a bumbling dad, danger and peril that miraculously never ends in anyone getting killed, and boy-girl chemistry and crushes with no actual romance happening.

There’s no literary ground being broken here, and in fact the book is a sequel to Spy School featuring the same characters. Bur readers definitely don’t need to read the first book to check in to Spy Camp, since the book’s story can stand alone.

The book’s hero, Ben Ripley, is a middle schooler. His parents think he’s attending a science and technology magnet school, but of course, he’s really at a top-secret training facility for future spies. Spy Camp begins with Ben reluctantly packing up for a spy summer camp, but it’s not going to be all s’mores and songs around the campfire.

Before he can even unroll his sleeping bag, Ben gets a letter with a no-win proposition. In the first book, Ben foiled a plot by an enemy spy organization called SPYDER. Now, they’re so impressed with Ben that they have given him two choices — join the enemy agency or die in 24 hours.

Spy Camp is a quick, fun, read with enough action to keep middle-elementary readers engaged. Not surprising, since author Stuart Gibbs is a real-life adventurer who’s climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro, ice-climbed in Patagonia, and faced down a charging elephant. A third book in the Spy School series is already scheduled for publication.

As with the other nominees, the Texas Bluebonnet Awards folks have put together some amazing resources for Spy Camp readers.

Diving into “The Neptune Project”

15 Sep

The Neptune Project

Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee The Neptune Project left me with a funny taste in my mouth, and not just from imagining the fish-flavored power bars the genetically altered children eat as they adjust to life underwater.

Overall, the book is an extremely captivating read. Author Polly Holyoke has created a clever new twist on the dystopian novel by setting it underwater. A group of children discover early in the book that their parents allowed them to be genetically altered with fish genes that allow them to escape the Orwellian chaos above ground and create a new world as the first humans to live under the sea.

Nere, the book’s protagonist, has always wondered why her eyes don’t see well on land, and why a short run has her wheezing. She finds out when her mother tells her that thanks to some fancy gene-splicing, she’s been growing in readiness for her transformation. Obviously, Nere has some mixed feelings about this. She loves the dolphins she’s been training all her life, but she is still resentful at being a real-life little mermaid experiment.

If the book had stuck to that theme, as Nere battles her feelings about her parents and the project and must become a leader to the group of similarly-spliced children as they escape from both sharks and human predators, I would have been thrilled with its inclusion as a Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee.

But Nere is also caught in the middle of a developing love triangle between  Dai, the loner renegade of the undersea group, and Tobin, the group’s caring and gentle medic. In one scene towards the end, she swims off with Dai for what turns to a session of kissing in the reef. Dai gets a little too rough, and has to break away to chill his gills, and this great read suddenly turns into 50 shades of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen.

Being a Bluebonnet nominee means this book is being talked up in nearly every elementary-school library in the state, and therein lies my problem. The love interest sub-plot isn’t necessary for the story, and really doesn’t need to be part of a book targeted to elementary schoolers. A crush is one thing. Getting crushed up against the reef by an uncontrolled kiss is another, and it will keep me from enthusiastically recommending this one to my 4th graders.

For older grades, though, the book has lots to recommend, and the Bluebonnet Award committee has put together some great links and resources for students whose appetite for more infomation is whetted — or “wetted” — by the undersea adventure.

The Neptune Project Resource Page

Gorilla My Dreams

12 Feb
The One and Only Ivan

Photo courtesy: The One and Only Ivan

I read Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan over the summer, devouring it in one sitting on a family camping trip. Then, I handed it off to my teenage son.

He read it in one sitting, too — staying up late into the summer night in his sleeping bag in the attic sleeping space above the den where I was bunking on the sofa. For hours, we had a call-and-response conversation about the book — I would hear him laugh or sigh, and whisper up the stairs “what part are you in?”

Finally, I braved the rickety stairs and perched up next to him, the book becoming a bridge where we could sit side by side, dipping our toes together into the refreshing and deep waters of the story.

On the bumpy off-road adventure that is parenting a teenage boy, I cling to rest stops like that one.

This week, The One and Only Ivan won the Newbery Award for the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,’ a recognition well-deserved.

The story of Ivan, a silverback gorilla who is making a life living in a run-down shopping mall, is heartbreaking and hilarious and triumphant all at once. Applegate masterfully tells the tale in the voice of Ivan himself, and it is his plain-spoken, wry humor (and talk of making poo-balls for annoying onlookers), that keeps the story from turning saccharine-sweet.

Worth reading and sharing, it’s a book next on my list of classroom read-alouds, and at the top of my recommended list. Just don’t blame me if it keeps you up giggling, sniffling, and eventually cheering late into the night.

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