Secret Agents Jack & Max Stalwart: Book 1

stalwart cover

Secret Agents Jack and Max Stalwart: Book 1

The Battle for the Emerald Buddha: Thailand

By Elizabeth Singer Hunt, Illustrations by Brian Williamson

 

Published by: Weinstein Books (July 25, 2017)

Available in: paperback, Kindle, audible

At the time of this review there were two books in the Secret Agents Jack & Max Stalwart series. There are a number of related books in The Secret Agent Jack Stalwart series and The Secret Agent Training Manual series.

 

Power punch.

Secret Agents Jack & Max Stalwart is a new series that wastes no time pulling kids into an adrenaline-filled, contemporary, criminal-and-detective caper that is relevant, educational, and exhilarating. With art history, geography, and social studies throughout, it’s a bit like hiding vegetables in pizza—both parents and kids will be happy.

Author Singer Hunt has proven she knows the secret code to page-turning intrigue in children’s writing. Her previous series, with the older brother from this series as the protagonist, has an impressive sales history and was serialized by BBC Radio. The author keeps things simple while imbuing the text with current references and fast-paced action. Her characters use cool new accessories like a burner cell phone that can’t be traced by police and the grill a young criminal wears on his teeth. And yet, the prose is straightforward, with short sentences and relatively simple vocabulary.

The illustrations by Brian Williamson, unassuming black & white drawings, are edgy enough to be current and bring a clean, forward motion to the page.

I love that the boys, both good and bad, are powerful, independent, and free to make big mistakes and serious contributions. These kids are shown respect by the author. Exciting story components, like tigers, boat escapes, and subterfuge, keep the story moving with ingenuity and pace. In solving the crime, the protagonists show cleverness and daring (and a funny bit of comedy), but they’re also on a vacation with their parents. So although this particular story is unlike what most kids experience, it’s easy to see a connection with other nine- and 12-year-olds.

There are a number of terrific additional content pages, with a map, glossary, explanation of Thai facts, and more. A small gripe, I don’t like that they’re placed in the front of the book, which makes it feel crowded. Also, the typeface is a bit hard to read. But these are minor critiques in an otherwise excellent, daring-duo adventure sure to excite kids—especially boys—into the world of reading.

What do you say teachers, parents, and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

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Cam Jansen Mysteries

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Cam Jansen & the Mystery of the Television Dog

By David A. Adler, Illustrated by Susanna Natti

 

Published by: First published in 1981 by Viking Penguin, Inc. Reissued by Puffin Books (July 22, 2004)

Available in: paperback, library binding, audible, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were 34 books in the Cam Jansen Mysteries series as well as an early readers series under Young Cam Jansen.

 

Click!

Cam Jansen & the Mystery of the Television Dog is one of the many, many Cam Jansen books, both for the early reader and the newly independent chapter book reader. Cam is a likable and quirky protagonist who is smart, kind of nerdy and has a keen eye for detail. These are very cool attributes to give to a main character, particularly a girl. In reviewing lots of chapter books, I see far too many current series with fluff and drama as the main personality and plot points. Seriousness has a home with Cam, and it’s a good fit.

The book has a very nostalgic look and feel. Illustrations hark back to a simpler time with plain black and white, crosshatch detail. The kids portrayed have a ‘70s-era look with rolled up shorts, basic T-shirts, generic round eyes and short hair. Likewise, the sentence structure is very clipped and easy, as in this short segment. “Just then a long dark blue car drove up. It stopped right in front of the bookstore. The driver got out…” Kids can swallow this stuff with easy confidence.

What is unique is Cam’s photographic memory. It’s a fun device that turns a simple story into a unique tale. The mystery part is also fun because it’s easy to spot a doggie switcheroo by a bad guy. Cam’s adventure is quick reading with just enough spunk to make it interesting. And if kids are interested, they’ll read more–which is is the point, yes?

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

J.J. Tully Mysteries

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The Legend of Diamond Lil: A J.J. Tully Mystery

By Doreen Cronin, Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

 

Published by: Balzer + Bray; Reprint edition (May 7, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were two books in the J.J. Tully Mystery series.

 

 

Gumshoe.

The Legend of Diamond Lil: A J.J. Tully Mystery is an old-time mystery ala Philip Marlowe. It’s easy to visualize our hero in a trench coat and fedora, his steps echoing down a foggy alley deep in the night. Except our hero is a dog with floppy ears, a collar and trouble with possums.

Wise, a little sour and with shades of Rodney Dangerfield humor, J.J. Tully is funny right from the start: “A week ago, I woke up in the quiet country yard that smelled like fresh air and dog pee.” He’s an unusual protagonist for a children’s chapter book, which is perhaps why I love it so much. Filled with back (doggie) door information, sidekicks Dirt and Sugar, and a mystery that only a dog could sniff out, this chapter book excels at originality, comic turns of phrase and intrigue.

Because of the more sophisticated humor and a sometimes more difficult vocabulary, this is an excellent choice for chapter book readers who are on the verge of moving to middle grade novels. This is no babyish saga, but a fully developed, tail-wagging story with complex plot, characters that breathe with life and a satisfactory ending.

This same writer/illustrator duo also brought us the hilarious Chicken Squad series, and its nice to have the familiar looks to chickens, dogs and things that go bump in the night. A winning combination to be sure.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

Joe Sherlock Mysteries

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JOE SHERLOCK, KID DECTECTIVE, CASE #000004: THE HEADLESS MUMMY

By Dave Keane

 

Published by: HarperCollins (January 30, 2007)

Available in: paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were six books in the Joe Sherlock series.

 

 

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Joe Sherlock, Kid Detective, Case #000004: The Headless Mummy is part of a winning mystery formula based on a love of legendary super sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. With fun additions like Baskerville Elementary and Baker Street, the inside jokes help carry the story to a very satisfactory ending.

Part of the reason author/illustrator Keane’s young Joe is such an endearing protagonist is his imperfect nature. Although able to use good common sense to solve the puzzle at the core of the book, Joe also has challenges that concern him. Like his difficulty in reading. And his difficulty in understanding big words or expressions. Even though he solves the mystery, Joe is not a know-it-all. Most sweet.

The book is also filled with truly quirky characters and plot points worthy of a good laugh out loud. There’s his sister Doreen, who’s really a disposable glove filled with water… which he sits on and breaks, fearing he’s wet his pants. His (real) sister, Hailey, is a comic delight, and things like a pancake that look like a TV host keep the humor rolling from page to page.

The entire book feels like a young boy’s journal: the typeface is sort of jolly, the illustrations are goofy and original, and the plot moves appropriately sideways just as it moves forward. At times the tone and point of view feel almost adult in tone, but this is not a criticism. It feels distinct and different from other chapter books, which fit the young Joe Sherlock like a good herringbone jacket.

It’s no mystery: Joe Sherlock is one cool chapter book series.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….