Secret agents, robot chickens, and zombies | SLJ Spotlight
Zany plot lines, over-the-top characters, laugh-out-loud humor, and ever-so-slightly scary situations can be just the recipe to tempt a reluctant reader into grabbing a title off the shelf. Readers who have chuckled at the potty humor and adventures of “Captain Underpants” (Scholastic) will enjoy Helaine Becker’s Dirk Daring, Secret Agent, where a charmingly geeky middleschooler gets embroiled in a sinister spy ring. Fans of Daniel Pinkwater’s classic, The Hoboken Chicken Emergency (Prentice Hall, 1977), will relish Alex McCall’s novel about a world overrun by giant robot chickens. For kids looking for a small bit of horror mixed with large doses of belly laughs, hand them Howard Whitehouse’s wacky Zombie Elementary.
BECKER, Helaine. Dirk Daring, Secret Agent. 208p. Orca. Oct. 2014. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781459806832. LC 2014935380.
Gr 3-5 –Even a trip to the grocery store to buy hamburger buns can become a super, secret spy mission when you’re Dirk Daring, secret agent (a.k.a. Darren Dirkowitz). Darren is a somewhat geeky kid who practices ninja-like stealth skills and keeps a spy notebook detailing his numerous missions. When he is blackmailed by his stepbrother into using his skills for evil, things quickly spiral out of control. Soon, everyone in Darren’s middle school circle of friends is involved in an ugly game of spying, counter spying, backstabbing, and revenge. It’s only when Darren realizes that everyone’s strengths are needed to help defeat a larger evil that order is restored at the school and a new batch of secret agents is born. Excerpts from Darren’s spy notebook are amusing and give insight into characters. Dirk Daring, Secret Agent is a quick, enjoyable read with plenty of potty humor to reel in reluctant readers.
MCCALL, Alex. Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens. 205p. Floris/Kelpies. 2014. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781782500087.
Gr 4-6 –A few months after the world is invaded by giant robot chickens, Jesse, a wisecracking 12-year-old, is tasked with a mission to defeat the chickens and save the world. Along with 13-year-old, no-nonsense Rayna, Jesse’s first objective is to free the enemy-occupied city of Aberdeen, Scotland where he and a band of rebel kids have been living in hiding. However, their mechanical adversaries—often called “Catchers” by Jesse and the other children—still patrol the streets, looking to capture any humans who resist. A riff on the postapocalyptic subgenre, this science-fiction spoof features the usual tropes, including a ragtag resistance, rival factions, a war-torn city, a pithily nicknamed foe, and even a loopy group of survivors dedicated to worshipping their poultry invaders. Fans of action will enjoy the fast-paced skirmishes and fully-realized setting, while fans of comedy will appreciate the satirical elements, corny chicken jokes, and even cornier chicken puns. Despite the silliness of the premise, McCall treats his characters with surprising frankness: Jesse and Rayna cope with being displaced in Aberdeen, a city neither are from, and worry about their missing siblings, who have disappeared during the invasion. With humor, action, and layered characters, this title will be a hit with readers looking for a solid—albeit goofy—science-fiction story.
WHITEHOUSE, Howard. Zombie Elementary: The Real Story.256p. Tundra. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781770496088. LC 2013953682.
Gr 4-6 –Larry Mullet, a fifth grader at Brooks Elementary School, likes baseball and thinks the school lunch is especially unpleasant. But more importantly, he’s a zombie hunter. While taking a message to the office, Larry encounters Alex Bates shuffling down the hall, arms outstretched, mumbling about brains. Following this chance confrontation, zombies begin popping up everywhere: baseball games, in the middle of Pastor Linda’s sermon, and even at a cheerleader’s sleepover. With the adults ignoring the problem, it is up to Larry; his friend Jermaine; and one very enthusiastic cheerleader/lacrosse player, Francine, to ensure the safety of Acorn Falls by defeating the zombies. With Larry’s field notes scattered throughout the text, interview transcripts, and larger-than-life characters, this is a fast-paced tale that will draw in reluctant readers. Thought some kids may be confused by the abrupt change to calling zombies “zeds” halfway through the book, most will likely look past it to see just how many of the undead Larry can fight off with a baseball bat in the mall parking lot. A solid purchase for rabid zombie fans and a good pick for collections lacking in the funny horror genre.