Farber, Edna. Seagulls Don't Eat Pickles (Fish Finelli #1)
16 April 2013, Chronicle Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor
Fish and his friends Roger and T.J. have a lot going on-- between saving up money for a boat, battling bugs and trying to avoid Fish's princess-y little sister, they are busy boys. When the trio runs into the wealthy and obnoxious Bryce and claim to be hunting for Captain Kidd's treasure, Bryce bets them $50 they can't find it. Small change for Bryce, but twice the savings Fish has for his own boat! The boys start at the library and hope to find a treasure map. While delving in the card catalog, they realize that the librarian, Mr. E. Mann (Mystery Man) might be looking for a treasure as well, and other things they read and hear make them think the treasure will be on Lyons Island. When Fish's father has a plumbing job at Mrs. Lyons' house, the group tags along and finds a piece of old parchment in a trunk! Knowing they shouldn't take it, they do anyway, and a chance encounter with Jiffy Pop reveals that there is indeed a map on the parchment! Can they beat the Mystery Man to the treasure, save Lyons' Island, and get out of paying Bryce all of their savings?
Strengths: This will appeal to a lot of reluctant readers. It has a strong start with funny action (the boys are trying to contain a giant bug), plenty of gross boy details (bugs, food, etc.), and a good group of friends. Interspersed with the story are side bars with nonfiction information about a variety of topics, from microwave ovens to Captain Kidd. There are also copious illustrations, although they were not complete in the ARC.
Weaknesses: While this would be great in 4th or 5th grade, maybe even as a read aloud (where the nonfiction information could be elaborated upon, thereby making the Common Core Gods happy), I'm not sure about the success of this with 6th graders. Early in the school year, perhaps, but once we hit February, the 6th grade boys start being more testosterone filled and tend to eschew anything that looks too young. This is why Cheesie Mack books sit on the shelf after March. Weird, I know, but happens every year!
Leck, Jack. The Further Adventures of Jack Lime
1 April 2013, Kids Can Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Jack is back after The Adventures of Jack Lime, and he has three more mysteries to solve. A football player is fixing games, and a school art project and comic book have gone missing. More than that, there is concern about Luxemcorp and it's administrators, who may be the ones behind the threatening phone calls that Jack is getting. Throw in a girl sidekick, caring but ineffective grandma, and Jack's battles with narcolepsy, tell in a film noir style, and you have a modern day Encyclopedia Brown type story.
Strengths: Great cover, short, and understandable mysteries for reluctant readers.
Weaknesses: No more middle grade film noir novels! I don't think students would have understood this thirty odd years ago when I was in middle school, and they certainly don't get it now. I also had two problems-- Jack's narcolepsy seems extreme and untreated. I have two friends with the disorder, and t it manifests itself more often with extreme sleepiness rather than cataplexy. Also, if his grandmother wants him to stop investigating cases, she should be firmer with him instead of just saying "Oh, Jack, stop!"
My crabbiness could be due in part to the fact that many of the students in my study hall are apparently infrequently made to pay attention to adults. They don't seem to understand that the reason students in school have to raise their hand before walking around the room is because if they didn't, everyone would be walking around the room all the time.