Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Carman, Patrick. Trackers: Book One. Scholastic Press, 2010. 224 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0-545-16500-6. (3 1/2 stars out of 4)
The paper, binding, and ink that sheltered me under their protective and expansive umbrella while growing up are disappearing in a blur of e-readers, anime, and video, probably never to be seen again except during the inevitable nostalgia movement in about twenty years. After missing out on The 39 Clues series and Skeleton Creek, two of Scholastic’s recent attempts at cross-media books incorporating video and internet use, I decided it was time for me to see what the fuss is about. Frankly, I never expected to like Trackers by Patrick Carman, and now, after reading it, I am embarrassed for my pre-judgment—I liked it quite a bit, and I can understand why my students will like it as well. I spent hours (without ever intending to, I assure you—it was that absorbing) trying to defeat the three glyph game levels to unlock videos at www.trackersinterface.com, as well as explaining to colleagues and students walking by, who were wondering why I was playing a video game, “It’s a literature website and this is related to a book—I swear!” I finally had to finish the puzzles at home. Although the videos and game are not essential to understanding the material, they definitely enhance what is otherwise a pretty standard Spy Kids-ish suspense thriller. I would rather have my students watch video in this context than numb their minds with too much anime.
Adam Henderson is a computer genius, but he is more than that. Ever since he was five, he has been working at his dad’s Seattle computer repair store, Henderson’s Chip Shop; for Adam’s ninth birthday, Mr. Henderson gave his son a surprise that would define the rest of his youth, a technology workroom of his own called The Vault: “‘Consider it your laboratory,’ he said, nodding toward the door. ‘Anything that gets left behind [at the repair shop], you can have.’ The vault was small and stuffy, like a closet, but it was mine. I turned around and hugged my dad as if he’d just given me a dirt bike, twelve thousand candy bars, and another dirt bike” (7). Adam uses his talents to build supercomputers and high-tech surveillance equipment he plans to sell someday to the highest bidder, but he needs field operatives he can trust to test his hardware. When he hooks up with friends Finn, Emily, and Lewis, his tracking team is complete. The trackers are not interested in harming anyone or anything, they just like each other and share both mutual interests and complementary skills. Adam also invents a symbolic language using symbols called glyphs that play an important role in the action. At first, the team simply conducts tests of new cameras and other technology, but after discovering that others know about glyphs and may have sent him a secret message, Adam stumbles upon a mystery so dangerous that it threatens the actual fabric of the internet: a back door program may exist that can hack anything on the internet, or even shut the net down completely. Team members must decide if they are willing to risk their lives to combat this threat, but they may already be in too deeply to turn back.
Although the novel ends like a book with a sequel, very much like Haddix’s Found, I enjoyed the total experience of Trackers by Patrick Carman. The website, www.trackersinterface.com, contains cool games related to the glyphs, and as the reader delves deeper into the action, more and more videos become unlocked so readers can both see some of the action and place faces and traits with characters. This can be especially important not only for special needs classes who appreciate multiple information delivery formats, but also for all boys who just like to manipulate stuff, look at stuff, and move around while they read. The videos are reasonably well-acted, on a par with the old after-school specials but updated for the times. The book is narrated from some type of official holding facility, and only Adam’s safety is assured throughout the novel, so there are many questions left to ask and many mysteries left to uncover. No one, including the reader, knows who to trust, so Patrick Carman has succeeded with Trackers. Add it to your high-low list and your list of good books for boys, although everyone can enjoy it.

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Blogger max said...

It's so important to draw attention to reading, and attract reluctant readers to it, especially boys.

I grew up as a reluctant reader, in spite of the fact that my father published over 70 books. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for tween boys, that avid boy readers and girls enjoy just as much.

My blog, Books for Boys http://booksandboys.blogspot.com is dedicated to drawing attention to the importance of reading. And my new book, Lost Island Smugglers - first in the Sam Cooper Adventure Series - is coming out in August. .

Max Elliot Anderson
PS. My first 7 books are going to be republished by Comfort Publishing later in 2010

5:39 AM  
Blogger bduboff said...

I agree that boys have particular needs as growing literary individuals, and in my opinion, books like Trackers draw boys in with extra bells and whistles suited to their demeanors.

6:59 AM  

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