Cody is thirteen years old. He has spent his life travelling the world with his Dad who is an undercover CIA agent. After Cody gets caught in an explosion intended for his Dad, he is sent to live with his Aunt in Connecticut to spend time as a regular kid in a regular school…safe.
When Cody’s Aunt picks him up at the airport in a red Jeep, you get your first look at how Cody’s mind has been trained to think:
It’s a red Jeep Wrangler. A questionable choice of transportation, as it lacks speed, mobility, and protection, although it’s a capable off-road and poor-weather vehicle. The color, of course, is totally wrong. We might as well just drive around all day sending up flares.
Cody might know his vehicles, he might know defensive maneuvers in a crowded room, he might know surveillance techniques…but he doesn’t know a thing about what to wear or what to do or what to say in Middle School, possibly one of the scariest places on earth.
For one thing, Cody likes to wear designer suits. All the spies do. And if anything will make a kid a target, it’s a suit. It doesn’t take long for Cody’s oddities to get noticed. When the bullies attack they get more then they bargained for – Cody takes out five of them with his advanced martial art skills. He might talk kind of funny and he might dress kind of funny and he might act kind of funny…but beating 5 to 1 odds makes Cody a hero. He suddenly finds himself the center of attention…when all he wants to do is blend in, disappear, never be noticed again.
The very skills that make Cody invisible in the spy world make him stand out in Middle School. Being noticed makes Cody very uncomfortable. Being watched makes him more uncomfortable still, and Cody IS being watched, and not just at school, his training tells him this is true. But by who? And what do they want?
Allie Finkle’s back with more rules for girls. Her class is putting on a play and Mrs. Hunter announces that the students must audition for the parts. Allie is sure she wants to audition for the main part, Princess Penelope, so she can wear a pretty dress and a tiara and be the star. But before she can say which part she wants to audition for, her friend Sophie says SHE wants to be Penelope too. The auditions pit friend against friend for the most coveted parts. It’s a competition and some good rules just might keep the auditions from getting ugly.
1. No one likes a sore loser.
2. No one likes a sore winner.
3. It’s important to accept victory modestly. (Then you can celebrate all you want in private, where the losers can’t see you.)
The auditions also pit friend against enemy. Allie and Sophie both hope to be Penelope, but even more, they definitely don’t want bragging Cheyenne to get the part. “back in Canada, I was actually the lead in all my school plays…I brought my head shot and resume in to show Mrs. Hunter. I guess none of you brought head shots and resumes, did you?” Blech. Allie and her friends are NOT impressed.
The audition day turns out to be pretty emotional. Everybody’s nervous and not everybody gets the part they want. How each person reacts to their victory or their disappointment is the fun of reading about Allie and her classmates. Despite the victory dances and the tears and the drama queen temper tantrums the show must go on so Allie can add one more rule to her list, “There are no small parts, only small actors.”
Griffin Bing, “the Man with the Plan” is back with his friends from Swindle to solve another mystery and put some more shady adults in their place.
The day Savannah’s pet monkey Cleo goes missing gets worse when the kids discover the monkey is being held captive in a crummy, run-down zoo. As if running a crummy zoo with tiny cages and questionable animal care isn’t bad enough, the zoo is actually stealing pets to fill up the zoo…and the kids aren’t going to stand for it. The grown-ups the kids go to for help are no help at all, so the kids decide that what they need…is a plan. Enter Griffin “the Man with the Plan”, who assembles the team:
Savannah: Animal Expert
Antonia AKA “Pitch”: Rock Climber
Melissa: Eletronics Expert
Ben: the Small Guy
The plan is “Operation Zoobreak”. The kids need to get to the zoo in the middle of the night, distract the night watchman, free Cleo from her cage and get out again without being seen. The plan requires precision. The plan requires stealth. The plan falls apart when the kids realize that freeing just Cleo means leaving all the other animals behind…and that’s not good enough. In a last minute alteration to “the plan” they free more than 40 other animals, divide them up and stash them in their houses…withough their parents or anyone else noticing. If you don’t think this plan will work, well, then you havn’t met Griffin Bing.
Sometimes grownups make mistakes or drop the ball or just don’t get it. When this happens, kids like Griffin and his friends step in to set things right. If you like reading about a kid like Griffin, try on of these:
Genius Julian is psyched to start a new school. He has a plan called “Operation Act Odinary” to finally be someone other than the smart nerd. On the first day of school he resists raising his hand and exclaims, “Only geeks like chess. I hate chess!” On the second day he can hardly stand it and eventually blurts out a complicated physics answer and immediately earns the nicknames “Einstein” and “Brainiac.” He’s the smart kid again and he’s really bummed!
What Julian doesn’t know is that there are kindred spirits in his school…and they’ve been watching him. Watching and waiting. And then they make contact by encoded message, a message only a fellow genius would figure out. Classmates Ben and Greta show up at the rendevous and induct Julian into their covert club, The Secret Science Alliance. They even have a top secret hideout full of high tech toys and gadgets and all kind of parts to invent things with. Look inside their hideout – a smart kid dream come true!
The kids start to meet up everyday after school and on weekends to work on their projects: the stink-o-meter, nightsneak goggles and a hovercraft, just to name a few. When a rival scientist steals their book of ideas and is sure to use it for his evil plans, it takes all of their genius and gadgets to bring him to justice. Author: Eleanor Davis Award: Booklist Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth 2010.
This book is full of colorful, busy, interesting illustrations – it’s a graphic novel so every page is illustrated. There are diagrams of inventions and cutaways so you can see inside things.
A lot of the pictures look like Rube Goldberg machines. Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist famous for drawing funny, complicated machines that do very simple things…like sharpen a pencil or put toothpaste on a toothbrush. At Rube’s Official Website you can look at a gallery of his drawings. These drawings were inspirations for some of what you see in The Secret Science Alliance. There are lots and lots of details in each picture and the diagrams contain many steps and lots of labels. Purdue has a famous contest each year named after Rube Goldberg. During the contest, students try to build the most complicated machine to perform a simple task. The task for the 2010 contest is…dispensing hand sanitizeer…or course!
My name is Fin Garrett and this is my book and this is my story.
There will be some silliness, lots of my sucky drawings, a pop quiz and fun homework assignments, three or four family photos, and a few of my favorite memories. Caution: Sometime the story will get a little sad. But it won’t always be sad.
I began disappearing this past June, right after what I call The Terrible Day That Changed Everything…
Fin writes his story a lot like Greg in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He draws a lot of pictures and he tries really hard to explain what is happening in his life and how he feels about it. At first, you wonder if this is a superhero story. Maybe Fin really IS turning invisible, but then you get to the part about the terrible day that changed everything and the book becomes something much different. Fin is right, his story does get a little sad, but the best thing about Fin’s story is how you watch him live through the sad thing and then start to figure out how to live with the sad thing having happened.
I don’t know how to say anything else unless I tell you what the sad thing is, but I don’t want to give it away. Just understand that this book might LOOK like one of Greg’s Wimpy Kid diaries but it has a more emotional punch to it. It has really funny parts. I think you will like Fin and he’ll make you laugh. He’ll also probably make you cry a little bit too. Isn’t that just like a good friend in real life?
I loved this book because the terrible thing that changed everything in Fin’s life also happened to me, and the way he describes his feelings are so like how I felt. Fin seemed real to me and I believed the words in his journal. Listening to Fin is like listening to a close friend tell you his story. And in the end, Fin’s right, his story isn’t always sad. It’s good to know that people can and do live through sad things. They learn to be happy and laugh again. Author: Evan Kuhlman
Like I said, this book is a lot like the Wimp Kid Diaries, so if there is anybody left out there who hasn’t read about Greg – get to it! Umbrealla Summer and The Girl Who Threw Butterflies are about kids like Fin who have had to adjust to a major change. These two books might make you cry a little bit too, but both will leave you feeling good in the end.