Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rick Yancey

Since Rick Yancey just won a Printz Honor Award for his excellent The Monstrumologist, I thought I would opine on his Alfred Kropp series, which so far includesThe Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp (2005), The Seal of Solomon, and The Thirteenth Skull(2008).

I didn't like the first book, but The Seal of Solomon was awesome. I reread the first book, could not believe it was the same author.

In the first book, which I thought was weakly written (not that this bothers students), Alfred ends up with the sword Excalibur, which has survived in the keeping of the descendants of the Knights of the Round Table. People chase him; many heads roll. In the next book, we find out that Alfred is descended from Lancelot, and it is up to him to save the world from demons released by another ancient artifact. In the third, Alfred himself is prized by several organizations bent on world domination, since his blood can heal people. Evil doers abound to thwart his every move, and it's tough for Alfred to know whom to trust. Chased by the son of the man he killed in the first book (who is determined that he must kill Alfred to obtain his skull!) and jailed and almost lobotomized by scientists he thought would help him, Alfred has a series of escapes that include sledding down a mountain on a garbage can lid, high jacking helicopters, and THE BEST CAR CHASE EVER!!! While I personally had trouble focusing on the direction of the plot, (it was PTO night) the action, adventure, and sly humor of Alfred kept me delightedly turning pages and quoting hunks to my family. Purple prose, Horn Book? Absolutely! If you buy The Monstrumologist, make sure that you get this series, too, because students will be asking for it.

We are heading into February, and students are demanding depressing books. Child abuse, drug abuse, mental disorders-- you name it. Susan Vaught's books fill this need beautifully. Exposed and Big Fat Manifesto (both 2008) have been very popular, especially with students in 8th grade who are more mature readers. Since I didn't have Trigger (2006), I thought it was worth a look.

Jersey has sustained significant brain damage which makes it difficult for him to walk, talk, and keep from blurting out inappropriate phrases (frog farts!). He doesn't remember how he was injured; he doesn't know why his former best friend is so angry with him. His parents are on edge, and everything is difficult. He tries, with the help of Leza and her grandmother, to figure out what happened. He begins to discover that he tried to commit suicide by shooting himself, but it takes him a long time to find out why. This is a great book for getting inside someone else's head, much like Klass' You Don't Know Me, Going's St. Iggy, or Baskin's Anything But Typical. It's a difficult read, but fine for middle school, and a much more helpful book when dealing with teen suicide than many I have read. Will definitely be buying a copy. Luckily, it's still in print.


  1. I hadn't heard of Trigger but I"m definitely going to put it on my to-read list. I agree with students demanding depressing books. Books are a safe way for them to explore issues that they are curious about without taking any risks.

  2. Oh my gosh, I loved Trigger so much! I did a review back when I first read it. Jersey is such a murky character, and so different Before and After.

  3. Anonymous9:47 PM EST

    I've never heard of Susan Vaught, but I'm in desperate need of "teen issues" books for my library. You're right: it is that time of year. Thanks for the recs!