Saint John Don Bosco:

"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Caose of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

This is for young tweens who like over-the-top, goofy action.

It’s a detective book that, alas, does not recreate the wit of an Encyclopedia Brown or a Great Brain: it’s more an updated version of the Hardy Boys.

Its charm lies in its silliness: the villains are librarians and the action starts with a SWAT-team-like invasion of the library triggered the instant that Steve checks out a book. Of course, it was not just any book and librarians are not just librarians: they are a network of secret agents.

Fortunately, Steve has read and re-read his favorite detective series so many times, he is prepared for emergencies like how to jump out a window and roll, what to do when a kidnapper is tying you up, or how to escape when trapped in a room. Much like an old Nancy Drew novel, each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, albeit slightly less believable than those old novels. (Or maybe that’s my perception in older age.)
It’s a challenge to teach our children to live in a fallen world, recognize it, treat themselves and others with compassion while striving for personal holiness and social justice. Considering that, my criteria for books are that when dealing with heavy topics, the characters acknowledge them, show honest growth toward the good, and keep it age-appropriate.

This story doesn’t measure up. Steve’s dad is out of the picture, and that’s a heavy topic. It’s not dealt with at all. We don’t know why his father is gone. Matter-of-factly, his mom has a boyfriend: Rick. Steve hates Rick and refers to him several times as a jerk. And he is. When Rick describes a mystery he is dealing with as a policeman, Steve offers an intelligent answer and Rick is derisively dismissive of it. The mom then reproaches Steve. The story itself is shallow, and that’s the best you can say about how this topic is dealt with.



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