Monday, June 3, 2013

Series review: The 39 Clues

The 39 Clues, books 1 - 11
By Various authors
Published 2008-2011 by Scholastic

Dan and Amy Cahill have not had an easy life - orphaned after a terrible fire, they've been raised by their great-aunt Beatrice, though they have wished to be under their grandmother's, Grace, care instead. When Grace passes away, the siblings are finally exposed to the secret family history they knew nothing about - that may have led to their parents' deaths. Before they know it, Dan and Amy are embarking on a worldwide clue hunt to uncover all the Cahill family secrets and the 39 clues that could make them the most powerful people on the planet.

So, I decided that I was going to have a 39 Clues-themed program at the library and figured I should probably read the books before the program to have a better understanding of the series. I'm not going to talk about the program (I'm actually planning on repeating it this summer with minimal changes, so I'll post about it after that), and I don't have enough to say about each book individually to give them all separate reviews, so I figured I'd do a series overview here.

As I'm sure you know, this series has been insanely popular and successful since it was first published, now encompassing a sequel series (with a third to come in the fall, I believe). It's not hard to see why these books have done so well. Perhaps what book one has most going for it is Rick Riordan's name on the cover. He is one of the few authors that kids ask for by name, so that recognition helps sell this series to kids. Additionally, by having Riordan write book one, readers quickly know what to expect: fast-paced, crazy adventures in interesting settings. Riordan knows how to write a cliffhanger as well - every chapter ends on one, and this continues throughout the series, really drawing kids forward in the story. Another thing this series and all its authors excels at are the first sentences of each chapter - they are so crazy and attention-grabbing that you can't help but keep reading to find out what they mean.

Not every book is as awesomely exciting as the next one, but as a whole, the series works exceedingly well. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to interact with the series, as well - secret codes are included in each book, there is an interactive online game, and, of course, the kids can try to get ahead of the Cahills in the clue hunt along the way.

One of the best things about this series is how easy and natural it is to pair with non-fiction; David Levithan, the editor, describes them as "subversively educational." While following the clues, the Cahills learn about different places and times in history, as well as different people. Hopefully, reading bits about these things in the exciting adventures of Dan and Amy encourages many kids to explore these topics in non-fiction as well. It would be insanely easy to create a display of non-fiction books that relate to the series; they would probably fly off the shelves, too.

As an adult reading the series, I found them quite often too ridiculously unbelievable. However, they are quick reads and it's very easy to see the kid appeal in them. I'm glad I've read them now, and I'll be trying to read the sequel series when I get a chance, too.

Here they are, in order, for the curious:
Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan
One False Note by Gordon Korman
The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis
Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson
The Black Circle by Patrick Carman
In Too Deep by Jude Watson
The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis
The Emperor's Code by Gordon Korman
Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park
Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Vespers Rising by Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman, Jude Watson and Peter Lerangis

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