Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret, by Trudi Trueit, (Sept. 2018, National Geographic), $16.99, ISBN: 9781426331596
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’.
Recommended for ages 9-13
When Artemis Fowl was published almost ten years ago, it was hailed as the next Harry Potter type series in terms of kids’ blockbusters. There have been seven novels, plus graphic novels, since, and while it hasn’t reached the Harry Potter level of mania with readers young and old, it is a strong series that has managed to remain on the shelves over the past decade – not something many books can claim these days.
Artemis Fowl the Second is a boy genius and the son of a missing crime lord. To find his father restore his family’s reputation, he needs some help. In this case, “help” means getting a copy of the Rule Book from the Fairy World – because in this world, they are real and they don’t want us to know it – and finding out their secrets to use against them. But now he’s got the attention of the LEPrecon (the Lower Elements Police), and dealing with magic is never predictable.
It took a while for me to warm up to this book. I did not like Artemis, for starters. He is supposed to be an anti-hero, but there was not enough of him to give me a connection; I only thought of him as an annoying kid too smart for his own good for about 3/4 of the book. The LEP characters were somewhat more engaging but they needed some time to hit their stride; when they first appear on the scene, they almost seemed like caricatures in the exaggerated speech and description.
There is a prevalent subplot about how we humans, the Mud People, are destroying the planet. Colfer makes it abundantly clear that The People find humans beneath them and hold them in contempt.
There are plenty of Artemis Fowl websites, incluiding the US and UK websites that provide information about the books, book trailers, and games for visitors. Author Eoin Colfer’s website offers links to author information, information about all of his books, and a message board.
Recommended for ages 9-12
Cal lives with his family, including Frankie, a talking dog
that only he can understand, next door to a very loud neighbor. Mr. Frout regularly wakes the neighborhood with clanging and banging in the early hours of the morning. He’s not a very friendly neighbor, so curious Cal decides to spy on him to see what all the commotion is about and discovers Mr. Frout, in a suit of armor, hovering in the air. His experiment goes awry and Cal rescues him, which makes Mr. Frout a little more friendly and Cal learns that Mr. Frout is making an anti-gravity machine. Inevitably, things get out of hand and it’s left to Cal to save the day.
The book skews toward the younger end of the reading range, as it is a chapter book with lots of black and white line drawings that will keep younger readers interested. The characters are well-described, and have just enough reality to them that kids can identify with them, while being fantastic enough to make the story fun. I appreciated that the parents weren’t drawn as hopeless dimbulbs, as often happens in children’s books – I particularly liked a section of the book where Cal’s mother gets angry at him for befriending a stranger (Mr. Frout), despite Cal’s assertions that he is friendly. It was a smart way to take advantage of a teachable moment on stranger danger.
Richard Hamilton and Sam Hearn are an British writer-illustrator team who have worked on four books together.