Monday, April 29, 2013

Middle Grade Monday-- The Reluctant Assassin

So here's the question of the day-- what do you do when a middle grade author brings out a book with a middle grade cover, one which all your cute little middle graders will be begging for--- and it's really more YA? I'd love to hear opinions on this one, because I am still just not sure about it.

Cover image for The reluctant assassin / (W.A....Colfer, Eoin. The Reluctant Assassin (W.A.R.P. #1)
7 May 2013, Disney Hyperion
E ARC from

Riley is an orphan in London in 1898, and he is not happy working for Garrick, whose job it is to kill people. When they are on assignment, Riley suddenly gets sucked through time. Chevron Savano is also a teenage orphan, and she works for the feds-- after her last assignment ends badly in the US, she is sent to babysit an alt-tech capsule in the basement of a London town house, accompanied by another agent, Professor Smart. This is super boring until Riley is brought through. He's worried about Garrick following, but Chevie thinks it highly unlikely, even after she learns from Smart that the government has been using time travel to hide key witnesses in the past (FBI's Witness Anonymous Relocation Program). Things go horribly wrong, though, and Garrick and Smart are morphed into one person and brought to present day London, where they evil Garrick is obsessed with getting back at Riley, getting the master Timekey from Chevie, and killing as many people in as many gruesome ways as possible. Can Riley and Chevie stop him before he alters the fabric of the universe?
Strengths: Colfer's Artemis Fowl series (2001-2012) was one that was published at a good clip, kept students interested in the new books coming out, and still enthralls readers. This first book is action packed, has good time travel, and incorporates Steam Punk elements in a way that even students who aren't familiar with it can understand. I also liked that Chevie is Native American, and while this is addressed, is not the whole point of the story.
This was incredibly bloody and gory, to the extent where I don't know if I can buy it for my school. The very first chapter starts with Garrick instructing Riley on how to kill someone with a knife, and gets very graphic about how muscle and bone make this difficult. There is a horrible murder of an entire hazmat team, and when Garrick and Smart fuse, there is gore everywhere. Sure, there are other gory books, but it's usually zombies or monsters or animals. It's the human perpetrators of grisly murders that give me pause. Oddly, I haven't seen any other reviews that even mention this. Any thoughts? Anyone else buying this? If I hadn't read it, I would have bought it without thinking about it, on the strength of the Artemis Fowl series.

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Stacking Books.

Magnet Power!: Science Adventures with Mag-3000 the Origami Robot
Troupe, Thomas Kingsley. Illustrated by Jamey Christoph. Magnet Power: Science Adventures with MAG-3000 the Origami Robot, Diggin' Dirt: Science Adventures with Kianai the Origami Dog
1 January 2013, Picture Window Books

Diggin' Dirt: Science Adventures with Kitanai the Origami DogReading catalogs, or even doing searches on Titlewave, can help find all sorts of useful titles. Occasionally, however, I get distracted and end up checking out books on knitting dog sweaters or picture books from the public library!  The nonfiction books above were not quite as frivolous a pursuit-- sometimes picture books on difficult science topics are good to have, and the origami tie in was irresistable. While these had a fun story and lots of information, they really were more appropriate for grades K-3, as the publisher suggests. If you work with younger students, definitely give them a try. I guess the thing I found a bit disturbing is that they seem to be playing off the popularity of The Origami Yoda which is really NOT appropriate for grades K-3. That's definitely a middle school book!


  1. I really hate when kids are begging for a book, but it not appropriate for them. It's hard to explain to them because they don't really understand.

    Thanks for sharing the other titles. I'm going to have to look for them.

  2. I haven't heard of the science adventures/origami books and they sound interesting. Great connection for Japan where origami is so popular. The Colfer book sounds too violent for me also. Of course, I just finished the Runaway King and I guess there's lots of stabbing in that too, but I didn't feel like it overpowered the story.

  3. Hmmm. My patrons lost interest in Artemis Fowl before he got to the end of the series - we're more Rick Riordan fans at my library - so I haven't really bothered with anything else Colfer wrote. Being a public library, I'd just stick it upstairs in teen and the kids can go up and get it there, but that won't really help you...

  4. Middle-graders are reading a lot of stuff I think is inappropriate. I would take a pass on this book. It sounds far too graphic. Thanks for telling us about it.

  5. The gore would give me pause too. Will you really have students clamoring for it and, if so, can you pretend the book's been sucked into an alternate universe and is now impossible to order, at least for school libraries? If they're that desperate, you can direct them to the public library to see if it has been unaffected by this strange change in the laws of time and space.

  6. Origami and science is a unique combination indeed! Cant wait to read this series. Thanks for sharing.
    I agree about the gore and violence. I myself can't stand it whether its via monsters/creatures let alone done by humans. Wish the creative powers of the authors were channeled into something better. After all non of the classics that we loved reading and growing up with had that amount of violence and they are still read all over the world!

  7. Hmmm. I got a bit tired of Artemis but he still has a couple fans in our school. May give the mother of at least one of them a head's up.

    Drives me BATTY when the 2nd graders all want to get Wimpy Kid or Origami Yoda. So not cool and it's a constant ... was going to say fight but that doesn't sound right. Discussion, shall we say.

    Will need to check these out. ;)

  8. I also think it's indicative of the way many books for kids are going. Middle grade books read like YA, YA read like adult fiction. (It's almost as annoying as every book being part of a trilogy.) For example, I loved the book Code Name Verity, but did not purchase it for my 8th graders because of the depictions of torture used by the Nazis. Also Splendors and Glooms is a book many of my 6th graders want to read but one of the main characters looks at a naked picture that his master hides and also spies on the young female protagonist while she bathes. I just say no to them and say it will always be there waiting for them when they get older.

  9. Anonymous1:20 PM EDT

    I haven't read this one, but I think you'd be justified in not getting it for your library. If they want it that bad, their parents can take them to the public library. My kids and I did read the first couple Artemis books when they first came out and enjoyed them a lot. Shame on the marketing people for pushing Warp into middle grade!

  10. Yeah, the publishers are saying 10 and up, and I was going to have my 9 yo read it. But I'm about 6 chapters in, and I can see your concerns. I don't think I'll give it to my 9 yo, but I can see it being okay for a 11 or 12 year old. Maybe I wasn't reading closely enough, but I didn't think the violence was overly graphic. There was a lot, but I'm feeling like it's more clinical than gratuitous, which makes me feel kind of detached from it.

    But, maybe it's me.