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Summary: Scott "Scooter" Martin (13), his older brother Gary, and their friends John "Zippy" White, Jimmy Finn, and Jacqueline "Jaq" Nagle are inseparable. They are also targets for Tommy Osborne, who calls them geeks and nerds. Today, the Port Townsend Gazette published the next Key of Lafitte, a clue to help treasure hunters find Pirate Jean Lafitte's gold. Old Man Sheesley has solved the first two keys, but the kids are determined that the next clue is theirs. Zippy figures it out, only to lose out to Tommy Osborne, who takes the prize: a boat! Not ones to give up easy, the friends come up with a plan to recover the latest key AND get the others from Mr. Sheesley's house. Turns out, Mr. Sheesley is as determined as they are to find the treasure, and he will do whatever it takes - including trapping them in a mine shaft - to get it. The kids are racing against time ... they've figured out the last clue, but can they make it back to Port Townsend in time? This is a coming-of-age story with universal themes to appeal to all types of readers.
Type of Reading: bedtime story, independent reading, read aloud book, reluctant reader, remedial reader
Recommended Age: read together: 8 to 13; read yourself: 9 and up
Interest Level: 8 and up
Reading Level: 3.4
Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.
Adult Reader Reaction: I stayed up way too late reading this book a couple of nights! It is fast-paced, filled with great characters, and crammed with lots of action. The author has a number of parallel themes going that are woven together flawlessly. He opens with a pirate story, and just when you think that is the plot, we meet Scott and learn that he's reading a book about Jean Lafitte. Each character is well developed but described generically enough that kids could easily see themselves and their friends as the characters. The dynamics between and among the friends, as well as their relationships with adults is mostly realistic and also educational. I love how DelaBarre ends each chapter with a simple quote. There are some predictable elements (like Casey at the Bat), but the reader is almost comforted by that fact because the ride getting there has been so wild. There were so many places where I thought of my 8-year-old daughter and all she could get from the story.
Pros: There is nothing lacking in this story of baseball, summer vacation, pirate treasure, and adventure. Although this is largely a cast of boys, girls will enjoy it, too. This is an exceptional choice for high interest/low readability audiences.
Cons: While I understand the literary value of calling people names (Old Man Sheesly,Fatman)I wish it didn't have to be so.
Borrow or Buy: Buy! This is one that kids will love to read and read again. They'll probably pick up nuances they didn't see the first time, making it something of a treasure hunt for them, too.
Educational Themes: This is an excellent youth book club selection. There is plenty to discuss vis-a-vis the characters, both as individuals and also how they interact (e.g., Zippy and Jimmy). There are themes of friendship, sportsmanship, loss of a parent/grief, choices and consequences, adult-child relationships, among others.
Notes: The author donated an advance review copy of this book knowing that we would consider it for review and provide an independent, unbiased profile. This book will be given to a nonprofit to help readers in need.
Literary Categories: Fiction - adventure, mystery, pirates, life lessons