Grant, Michael. The Call (The Magnificent 12)
Nominated for the Cybils by Ben. Review copy provided by publisher.
Mack is an ordinary boy who ends up befriending one of the many bullies, Stefan, at his school. This is a good thing, because a weird, moldy man named Grimluk shows up to tell Mack that he is one of 12 children(Magnifica) who is able to defend the world from the evil Pale Queen, who has her sites set on destroying human kind and has been imprisoned for the last three thousand years. We find out this story in flashback chapters involving Grimluk's initial involvement with the Magnifica's fight against the queen all those years ago. Mack and Stefan get help along the way, travel to Ayers Rock, almost get sucked out of an airplane, and avert disaster... for now. There are sequels in the offing.
Strengths: This book has some great action scenes and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a good length for elementary students who like fantasy, and Mack and Stefan's new relationship is an interesting one. Ben, who nominated it, writes a great review and clearly enjoyed this book a lot.
Weaknesses: This fell on the wrong side of the Pilkey Line for middle school students. Not that it was overly goofy, but there was an irritating dumbed-down feeling to it. Grant, who did the hard hitting Gone, is a good writer, but the prose in this is rather clunky and overly precious. (Page 162: "One of the rules of Great Literature is : show, don't tell. But one of the other rules of Great Literature is: Don't go on and on with boring scenes where nothing happens but a lot of talking.") The humor hit me the same way-- an adult trying to make things funny for kids. Mack is described as being afraid of everything, but good use is not made of this. I think I was put off at the very beginning by the descriptions of the different camps of bullies who pick on different types of students.
Obviously, actual children like this book, but I wish Grant had taken lessons from his wife, K.A. Applegate, on writing for younger audiences. My children adored Animorphs, which were action packed and concerned with topics that could have become goofy but somehow didn't.