Monday, April 7, 2014

Pint-sized secret agents

The very best literature for children appeals equally, or almost equally, to adult readers. I'm thinking of books like Alice in Wonderland, Charlotte's Web and the Dr. Seuss books. I was over 18 when I read both Winnie-the-Pooh and the Narnia books, and I loved them. I still read children's books from time to time, and when I do I judge them not on how I think a child might like them but rather on how I like them. At the very least I judge them according to what might have appealed to me when I was at a particular book's target age.

Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith (2014) does not pretend to be great literature. It's just a comic adventure tale for kids nine and over. I give it a mixed grade. At times I got caught up in the story, finding the comedy genuine and the mystery truly suspenseful. At other time it seemed dull and repetitious, as if the authors were just filling pages until they could legitimately move on to the exciting climax.

The book, the second in a series, concerns twins named Nick and Tesla, who are staying with their batty Uncle Newt while their parents are away on a secret mission. They suspect that someone hanging around the house is really a spy, and they are determined to discover who it might be. They have a number of suspects.

I would not be surprised if my grandson, about to turn 10, reacts as I did when he reads the book, which I hope he will do. I think he'll love the instructions on how to build a fingerprint kit and a secret code wheel, among other gadgets contributed by Pflugfelder. I know those kinds of things would have thrilled me when I was 10, whether I actually would have built the gadgets or not. I think, too, he will laugh at the funny bits Hockensmith, author of the Holmes on the Range mysteries, brings to the book.

I just hope he doesn't get bored and give up on the book before it gets interesting again, as I was tempted to do. Young readers aren't really that different from older ones. They like stories, such as Winnie-the-Pooh, that stay fun all the way through.

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