Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Superheroes and The Pilkey Line

Ah, yes, the Pilkey Line. The point at which a book falls on either the elementary side or the middle school side. Pilkey is really too young for middle school, but still has a strange appeal. Sometimes it's hard to tell, and it's not always an easy call, but reading these together recently made me think about this concept.

Bacon, Lee. The Dominion Key (Joshua Dread #3)
13 May 2014, Random House
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Joshua, Milton, Sophie and Miranda are all attacked by evil villains named Grifter and Lunk (who is  made up of concrete but dissolves in water!), and the parents decide they are no longer safe. Since the kids all want to go to school together, they end up at Alabaster Academy, a school for Gyfter children that is set on a remote, Gothic Island. It turns out that Grifter and Lunk work for Phineas Vex, and they are trying to assemble the components for The Device. The one remaining item they need is the Dominion Key, which was produced by a teacher at Alabaster, Dr. Fleming.When Alabaster's security is breached, the group, along with Cassie, the principal's daughter, heads off to a cabin where Fleming claims to have hidden the key. Along the way, they meet up with Marvin and Gus, retired superheroes who do their best to help the kids with their outdated technology. The group almost loses Miranda, uncovers some secrets, and may finally manage to contain Phineas Vex... or do they?
Strengths: Again, the clever writing makes this a delight. I even have an 8th grader who was a little leery of these who tore through the first two. There is a strong sense of the kids being in charge, and the look into the past of the parents is really fun, since they are involved but don't dominate the scene. I adored Marvin and Gus, who were sort of like a washed up Batman and Robin. There's a tiny bit of romance hinted at, and in general the tone is pitch perfect for middle grades, even up to 8th!
Weaknesses: I'm never as fond of evil teachers, but there is a nice twist with one here. Covers improving, but still not strong.

18090043Jensen, Marion. Almost Super
January 21st 2014, HarperCollins

 Benny and Rafter Bailey are all set to get their super powers on 29 Feburary, the day when their family always gets a power. They are especially happy, because the daughter of the rival family, the Johnsons, is making their lives at school hard. Unfortunately, they get really lame powers, but no one knows why. Both families claim to be the good side, and claim that the other side is the villianous one, but it's never clear who is correct. It turns out that Juanita has also gotten a lame power (she's a super flusher and can unclog toilets), but the kids trace their problem down to October Jones. Only by working together can these arch enemies find out why their super powers are not what they want them to be. Seems like there will be a sequel.
Strengths: This has goofy elements that are fun, but more elementary. Anytime a spork, "super flushing" powers and multiple burps are mentioned, it falls on the elementary side of the Pilkey Line. There's plenty of action, and I can see this being a good series for elementary students who aren't quite ready for Joshua Dread
Weaknesses: I like more black and white shading with my super villains/heroes, so I was bothered that I didn't really know if the Baileys or the Johnsons were the good guys. Goodreads describes this as Savvy meets The Incredibles, which is accurate but doesn't make me want to read the book!

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