The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

The Name of this Book is SecretReading level: 5.3
Lexile: 810
Series: Secret book 1
Genre: Adventure, humor
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

Warning: this description has not been authorized by Pseudonymous Bosch. As much as he’d love to sing the praises of his book (he is very vain), he wouldn’t want you to hear about his brave 11-year old heroes, Cass and Max-Ernest. Or about how a mysterious box of vials, the Symphony of Smells, sends them on the trail of a magician who has vanished under strange (and stinky) circumstances. And he certainly wouldn’t want you to know about the hair-raising adventures that follow and the nefarious villains they face. You see, not only is the name of this book secret, the story inside is, too. For it concerns a secret. A Big Secret.

I may have overlooked this entire series had an 8th grader at my student teaching placement not pointed it out to me. If the description and title look a little wacky, you’re right. The Name of This Book is Secret was pretty fun, not to mention snarky. It compares to The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket with the author’s coming through to interject explanations along with abundant danger and mystery.

This story is geared towards younger middle school/upper elementary, yet the lexile range is fairly high, making it not very well suited for ELLs. The vocabulary is pretty sophisticated although the plot itself is not. I think that this whole series could appeal to kids who are reluctant readers if they aren’t below the 5th grade reading level.

I decided about half way through this book that I wouldn’t continue with the series. I’ve been bored with middle level YA lately, but I am still interested in how the rest of the stories play out. There’s just 1000000 more books I’d rather read. That said, the Cass/Max-Earnest duo is excellent. (Unfortunately Max-Earnest seems to have no similarities to Max Ernst.) They are unlikely friends, and they’re not perfect. However, they find ways to overcome their differences. And of course our villains are excellent. Very mysterious. 😉 This story teaches loyalty and bravery and does so in a clever way.

I’d recommend this book to (like I said) reluctant readers, kids with a good sense of humor, and those who like adventure/mystery.

Running with the Reservoir Pups by Colin Bateman

Running with the Reservoir PupsReading level: 4.5 (ish)
Series: Eddie and the Gang With No Name book 1
Genre: Adventure, humor
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

Eddie has a bad habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Otherwise, he never would have gotten mixed up with the Reservoir Pups, the scrappy gang of boys who rule the streets in his new town. And he definitely wouldn’t have agreed to their initiation mission: to break into the hospital his mom works at. It’s just Eddie’s luck that he stumbles upon some twisted baby-snatchers on the way. And just when it seems like life can’t get any worse, he bumps into the leader of the Andytown Albinos, the most fearsome gang of all. . . .

Running with the Reservoir Pups starts out on an interesting note with a new kid in town learning the ropes and getting into trouble by just being unlucky. The writing is snarky and clever, and it feels like it’s written to middle school boys rather than for them. I think middle school boys could really get into it.

Unfortunately, the further I got into the book, the less I liked it. As we get thicker into the plot, the sillier it becomes. And silly is fine, but I was led to believe from the first several chapters that it was a realistic story. What with kidnapping babies, boys beating up (at least verbally) on doughnut-eating policemen, and daring rescues with explosions, it just snowballed into utter goofiness. But like I said, that might be what some middle schoolers really love.

In addition to the silliness, I just don’t like Eddie. He is mean, simply put. Even though Scuttles (his arch nemesis and mom’s boyfriend) is obviously a good guy after we see how he cares for the babies, Eddie is still a complete and utter jerk to him.

Now, you may be wondering about the “gang” part of the book. The Reservoir Pups gang is clearly a menace but Eddie decides to try to join. We learn towards the end that apparently the only reason the Pups rescue a certain someone is because they would get paid. These kids are truly the worst of juvenile delinquents intent on doing nothing to help anyone but” themselves even when it means walking away from saving an innocent life. At the end, Eddie and his buddy decide to form their own gang and basically destroy The Reservoir Pups in the following books, which brings to mind violence, violence, and more violence.

I really don’t think this book would be contested, but I would argue that it’s fine to have kids reading it because none of the gangs seem very enticing, and I doubt kids would be inspired to join a gang because of it. Friendship, belonging, and camaraderie are the emphasized subjects more than joining a gang to wreak havoc on society. In addition, throughout the book, Eddie tries to get the help of the Pups, but they refuse him or only help with a heavy price, so they are clearly not people to be crossed or befriended.

For the most part, Running with the Reservoir Pups is ELL-friendly other than a few British English words, such as lorrie. I don’t think these words would do more than cause minor confusion because they are few and far between. The reading level is my best guess because Scholastic hasn’t leveled it.

If you’re looking for a pretty solid and not too serious middle level book that picky boy readers might like, this book could be it. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking and well-written story, you can do much better.

 

Hit the Road, Helen! by Kate McMullan

Hit the Road, Helen!Reading level: 4.3
Lexile: 540
Series: Myth-O-Mania book 9
Genre: Myth, humor
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

When Paris and Helen decide to hit the road together, it means more trouble than they can imagine for both themselves and the people of Troy. But who says Helen is entirely at fault? Sure she had a face that launched a thousand ships . . . but she also had a little interference from the meddling god of love and his mother, Aphrodite. Think you know the truth behind the Greek myths? Think again. Hades is here to set you straight once more on the true story of the Trojan War.

So yes, here is yet another Greek myth book. With a reading level of 4th grade, it is a good (not to mention fun) alternative to the more challenging Percy Jackson series. This book is actually more of a parody of the Greek myths. Although we get the “real deal” with who’s fighting whom in the Trojan War, and who all those gods and goddesses are and how they are related, we get another, far more light-hearted version with this story.

While the reading level is low and it’s generally fine for ELLs, there are lots of gods, goddesses, and mortals. Even though we get a list at the beginning of the book of who’s who on both the Greek and Trojan side, it doesn’t list all the characters. I was feeling a little lost at times, but McMullan does a great job of reminding the reader who these people are. The spellings and pronunciations of these characters would also be hard for struggling readers, although there is a pronunciation guide and glossary in the back of the book.

The one and only aspect of Hit the Road, Helen! that I dislike is the lack of female agency, mainly Helen’s. I’m no expert on the actual myth, but I am assuming that the original Helen was pretty useless, which is how McMullan wrote her in this story, too. As the myth goes, the Trojan War begins because Paris steals Helen away from Menelaus. The war continues for ten years because Helen is so in love with Paris that she doesn’t care about the thousands of people who are dying to win her back for her first husband. Helen is nothing more than a pawn. Now, life in ancient Greece was probably kind of lousy for women (although I hear they was more gender equality than we would think), but I hoped that McMullan would have written Helen to be at least kind of cool.

While Myth-O-Mania is a series, the books don’t seem to build on each other. I have only read this book out of the whole series and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

Hit the Road, Helen! is my fourteenth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.