I got intrigued by this series when I read Blooey’s post regarding the launching of Vespers Rising. I’ve always sensed that the books have a huge following, so lucky for me I was able to find several copies in our library (Books 1-4, not bad). So I thought, might as well see for myself what the hoopla is all about. I’ve always felt that any book that would capture children’s attention and engage them meaningfully in reading would most likely have redeeming qualities. What sparked my curiosity even more is that there is an interactive component to the book with readers being encouraged to go on their own clue hunt from their official website. As you read the books and collect the cards, you can also play the game, use your sharp wits and knowledge of the Cahill family, to outwit and outplay your opponents. Apparently, there are prizes at stake. Not bad.
The Series Curse. I am undoubtedly a series addict, be it books or TV shows. I am sure Sigmund Freud would have a lot of insights and mother-complexes-ruminations from that statement alone. I mentioned that because prior to this ten-book volume on The 39 clues, I also collected Lemony Snicket’s The Series of Unfortunate Events (Books 1-13), J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (Books 1-7), Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society Series (Books 1-3), Books 1-2 of Pseudonymous Bosch, The Artemis Fowl Series, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart Trilogy (and yes I even read the Twilight Series – I borrowed it from a good friend). I could perhaps chalk it up to my addiction to Sweet Valley High when I was younger.
I mentioned to a friend once that I find it extremely important to familiarize myself with what the young ones (tweeners, teenagers, even young kids) are currently reading – it gives me a keen insight on the things that fascinate them: it defines their sensibilities and current ways of being, which are inextricably linked with the zeitgeist of the times. Regardless of whether critics dismiss it as popular nonsense, I believe it provides a window to the current generation’s ethos (waxing academic here, I am afraid). I am not among those who dismiss a book simply because it’s popular or in the bestseller list for a period of time. I do try to keep an open mind and I love reading for the sake of reading.
However, this is double-edged. The more I read books, the higher my standards and expectations are about books. Call it a refinement of taste or whathaveyou. Despite this, I continue exploring as much titles as I can (within limits of course). This is kind of a long introduction to what I wanted to say about The Maze of Bones, but I feel that it should be given a context.
I enjoyed the book, but I was not taken with the writing style. I loved the concept of powerful family members who are at each other’s throat vying for a challenge that puts the entire world at risk and hanging in a precarious balance – but I found myself scrunching my nose with some of the lines that made Dan Cahill appear like a ‘doofus’ or
a ‘dweeb’ as what his sister Amy Calls him. I felt that his character was not given sufficient justice – his mathematical skills are quite evident and that should have been a good kick-off point for his sharpness in identifying connections where none appear to exist – but he was portrayed as a boy with limited vocabulary skills and kind of like a cardboard cut out from one of the Disney series that my daughter is fond of watching (say, I Carly, Victorious, Big Time Rush, Shake it Up) and the like. I understand the need to connect with a younger audience and reaching them through allusions with pop stars and use of colloquialisms – and I am sure that this must have added to its appeal with some of the
younger audience. However, I also feel that children’s comprehension and reading skills should not be underestimated. I recalled that in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, he had this ingenious way of defining certain terminologies in a way that would make even grown-ups roll over with laughter: the wit is astounding and encourages the younger reader to keep up and step up to recognize the subtleties of word play. Here, it just succeeded in making Dan appear unintelligent yet at the same time a math and computer whiz – doesn’t really add up. There are actually quite a number of things that ‘did not add up’ in the book – loose ends, areas that could have been tightened up more. Overall, it just seemed too smoothly packaged (undoubtedly part of its marketing ploy) but hey it’s the first book. And those are just my preliminary thoughts based on my experience with Book One. That being said, I also feel that there are several good things going for the book given its entire concept:
(1) Choose between a million dollar inheritance or a deadly adventure that would make you one of the most powerful beings on earth (the Cahills being a powerful family with “a greater impact on human civilization than any other family in history” – p. 18). While again, it seemed highly unlikely that such a family exists (talk about conspiracy theories), it succeeds in making the reader travel the extra mile (and another mile, and yet another) with Amy and Dan.
(2) Race against other family members who are after the same ‘secret’ – putting together all 39 clues (hidden across different parts of the globe) that would lead you to the ‘treasure’ or your ‘inheritance.’ While alliances can be formed, Dan and Amy are reminded that they should “trust no one.”
(3) Think of the book as a ‘travelogue’ of sorts – you get to travel to Paris, Vienna (in the second book) and seeing it with the sharp eyes of Amy (who loves libraries) and Dan’s ‘dweeby’ character, and their aupair Nellie who enjoys listening to music in her ubiquitous iPod.
(4) You get to solve the clues by reading the books and joining the interactive game online! Puzzles, anagrams, hacking codes – you name it. I particularly enjoyed signing up – I felt like a real spy with all these green flashes of typewritten messages.
I was informed after a few Q & A items (multiple choice of course) that I am part of the Janus Branch of the family. Hmm, I think I need to read more books to see whether that’s a good thing.
Teacher Resources. For educators who wish to make use of The Maze of Bones to engage their young readers in the classroom, I did find quite a number of resources that would assist you. This Curriculum Guide is created by Scholastic, Inc. and includes the making of an investigation journal, and chapter by chapter list of discussion questions and reading guide. This is another Lesson Plan created by Alissa Moy, BellaOnline’s Homeschooling Editor. It also contains a set of guide activities and list of questions that teachers can make use of.
About the Author. Rick Riordan was born in San Antonio, Texas and is the author of the equally famous Percy Jackson Series (which is part of our giveaway for our Whodunit Reading Challenge). Quite a number of his books have already been adapted into films. If you wish to know more about him, this is his official website.
The 39 Clues – The Maze of Bones (Book 1) by Rick Riordan. Scholastic Inc, NY. 2008. Book borrowed from the NIE Library.