One of my absolute favorite middle grade series to emerge in the last couple of years has been, without a doubt, the Explorer Academy series from NatGeo Kids by Trudi Trueit. I’ve been waiting on every book in the series with the same anticipation, excitement, and – when the book is done – pins and needles feeling, knowing I have to wait for another book in the series. I’ve gotten my nephew hooked on the series, too: when I get my hello hug from him, he’ll say, “Did you get the next Explorer Academy book yet?” I’ve just ordered the first three books for my library, too, so I’m going to start booktalking this to my I Survived readers… which is to say, all my readers. So let’s talk about that third book, shall we?
Things are heating up with the third book in the Explorer Academy series! In the last book, The Falcon’s Feather, Cruz Coronado and his friends narrowly escaped a scary situation, only to discover that Cruz’s dad has disappeared. The shadowy Nebula group is getting braver in their pursuit of Cruz and the pieces of his mother’s ciphers. Cruz needs to stay one step ahead of them while trying to track down his father, and find the next cipher. The closer Cruz gets to his 13th birthday, the higher the stakes. What happens when Cruz turns 13? WE NEED TO KNOW!
While the main plot continues to be Cruz vs. the Nebula group, we get some great subplots, including a look at space archaeology, where scientists use satellites to look for signs of looting at ancient burial sites. There’s great technology, too: this time around, the kids get to work with a PANDA: a Portable Artifact and Data Analyzer, that scans items and identifies the origins of bones, fossils, pottery, and includes a holographic image of the artifact being scanned.
Illustrated throughout, the latest installment is white-knuckle reading that adventure fans will refuse to put down from start to finish. The characters have become old friends at this point, so readers can jump in, reacquaint themselves, and get down to the business of conservation, preservation, and solving mysteries. The Truth Behind the Fiction highlights a space archaeologist and Egyptologist. Don’t miss this one.
Who loves secret codes? This book, written like a handbook for Explorer Academy students, teaches readers secret codes while sending them on codebreaking missions throughout the book. Hubbard, the adorable Westie who shows up in the Explorer Academy series, appears throughout the book with helpful hints if you get stuck. Readers and codebreakers will learn about acrostic messages, morse code, semaphore, pigpen ciphers, and more, all while learning about different areas in the Explorer Academy: The Library, the CAVE, and the Museum, for starters. A certificate of achievement is ready for readers who finish their missions.
This book is just too much fun, and nicely incorporates the Explorer Academy into the activities. This book would be beat up in circulation in my library, but for Explorer Academy fans, this is a great gift. And for kids who love the spy activities I have at my library, this will be a fun group of exercises to emulate. I had a fun Spy Week during Summer Reading a few years ago; bringing some secret coding adventures back may be fun to explore. Since I have the Explorer Academy books arriving at my library soon, it may be time for an Explorer Academy adventure, with some codebreaking and scavenger hunts around the children’s room… hmmm…
The second Explorer Academy adventure picks up shortly after the first adventure, The Nebula Secret, concludes, and the action kicks in pretty quickly. Cruz Coronado is back, and he’s on a mission to get the remaining ciphers that his mother hid around the world before her untimely death. His best friends, Emmett and Sailor, are right in the thick of it with him, and his Aunt Marisol is, too. The evil Nebula group is still trying to get Cruz out of the way, and now, there’s something new afoot; something only hinted at: they want Cruz done away with before his 13th birthday. Could it be something to do with that unusual DNA-shaped birthmark on his arm? We’ll have to keep reading to find out, because that’s all you’re going to get here.
In addition to the globe-hopping mystery, The Falcon’s Feather also talks conservation and preservation; this time, Cruz and his friends save a pod of whales entangled in nets, and, while visiting the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, have a discussion about biodiversity. NatGeo is committed to educating readers about world issues, and this is a great way to do it: put kids in the middle of an adventure and let them experience it! There are all sorts of new gadgets and gizmos in this volume, and Mell, our favorite robot bee, is back. One scientist creates a communication device that allows Cruz to communicate with the endangered whales, and it’s an outstanding moment in the book; Cruz’s world opens up when he not only hears the whales’ songs, but connects them to human understanding. This installment ends on a tense note, assuring that readers (like me!) will be waiting for the next book. The Truth Behind the Fiction section introduces us to the real-life scientists who inspire some of the book’s characters, including a deep-sea submersible pilot, an explorer studying ecosystems and biodiversity, and a geoscientist researching climate change. Color illustrations throughout the book are just gorgeous and will keep readers turning pages. Maps at the beginning of some chapters help place readers when the characters find themselves in a new location.
This series is a no-brainer. Get it on your shelves for your burgeoning explorers/conservationists/secret agents, or just readers who love a good, tight suspense read.
Twelve year-old Cruz Coronado has lived with his dad in Hawaii ever since his mom died in a work-related accident when he was little. Now that Cruz is 12, though, he’s got a big future: he’s been accepted into the prestigious Explorer Academy, which will take him to Washington, DC. The Explorer Academy is no joke: they accept only 24 kids from around the world every year; the students train to become the next generation of great explorers. But someone doesn’t want Cruz at the Academy: there’s an attempt on his life before he even leaves for the school! When he arrives at the Academy, he learns that his mother’s history is tied into his – and this could endanger his life, and the lives of his new friends. But who’s out to get Cruz?
Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret is the first in a new NatGeo adventure series, and I loved it. It’s action-packed, fast-paced, and features a good cast of diverse, interesting characters with loads of cool tech and devices, like Mell, Cruz’s honeybee drone. There are copious tech and nature facts and information found throughout the story, with scientist and technology profiles in a “Truth Behind the Fiction” section at the end of the book. Color illustrations and maps throughout the book make this a solid hit for tweens and early teens. I’m looking forward to The Falcon’s Feather – the second book in the series – in March. Cruz is a likable hero who has a talent for code-breaking and a good relationship with his dad and his aunt, who also happens to be a professor at the Academy. Cruz’s best friend, Lani, isn’t a student at the Academy (yet), and serves as an anchor to home for Cruz. She, and Cruz’s friend and Academy roommate, Emmett, are the gadget masters here: the Q of the series, for you James Bond fans. Talk them up to your STEM/STEAM kids!
Display and booktalk with the Nick and Tesla series from Quirk; the HowToons comic series, and the Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Berman. And talk up the Explorer Academy website! There are character profiles, book trailers, a chapter excerpt, gadget talk, and a crack the code challenge. It’s a good series to wrap a program around… just sayin’.